BACK in 2005, students from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School gave the first performance of Adrian Mitchell’s adaptation of CS Lewis’s The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe outside Stratford-upon-Avon, and this Christmas a new bunch of training actors has returned to the children’s story, directed by Jenny Stephens.
This sell-out show, at the Redgrave Theatre in Clifton until 19th December, gives the cast a chance to shine in a number of roles, as they tell the story of the Pevensie children and their evacuation to the country as their London home comes under nightly attack from German planes.
Suddenly transported to a rambling house where a professor lives with his strict Scottish housekeeper and the staff, Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy explore the antique-filled, book-lined rooms until they find one with nothing but a wardrobe in sight.
Playing hide and seek, Lucy climbs in among the fur coats, and hey-presto, she’s in another world. It’s cold and dark and the only light shines from a street lamp from her “old” world.
She meets a fawn who invites her for tea, and then confesses that he’s intending to kidnap her and hand her over to the White Witch who terrorises the land of Narnia, where she has created perpetual winter with no Christmas. He tells Lucy to escape, and she dashes back through the wardrobe, only to find her brothers and sister think she’s telling tall tales.
But Narnia’s no dream, and before long the Pevensies all make the journey, to discover that the fate of the country and its animal inhabitants is in their hands, and in the paws of Aslan, the great lion who will lead them.
This allegorical tale has strong Christian overtones, the mythic scale of the Narnian plots and battles contrasting with the secure Englishness of the professor’s country house.
Designer Ruari Murchison has created a perspective-defying set for this show, as it spills out onto the stage full of wolves and beavers, unicorns and satyrs, lions and dwarfs.
In a cast of 19, most playing multiple roles, there are stand-out performances from Nicola Taggart as the strict Scot and the ebullient Mother Christmas, Monica Nash as Mrs Beaver, Jonathan Charles as Mr Tumnus, Callum McIntyre as the “troubled” Edmund and Hebe Dickins as a spirited Lucy.
The role of Aslan is always a difficult call – is he a timeless god or a powerful animal. In this production the director and actor Will Brown have moved away from the religious element, and the result is not altogether a success, concentrating on the smiling humanity rather than the awesome (in the REAL meaning of the word) power of this mysterious figurehead.
Photograph by Graham Burke