THERE are so many things to admire in the Leeds Playhouse’s production of CS Lewis’s classic children’s book, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Staging, lighting and sound teams combine to make it a visual treat, and the way in which the cast combine their skills as musicians, providing a continual stream of appropriate music throughout the evening, and support for the vocals, shows a width of theatrical skills not often matched in one production.
The fact that the company are the orchestra as well as the actors in no way prevented a string of believable and entertaining characters, human and animal being created.
Giving any character a sense of reality in a story which is for the most part fantasy is extremely difficult. While exploring the mysterious old house to which they have been sent, the four Second World War evacuees, Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy – Ammar Duffus, Shaka Kalokoh, Robyn Sinclair and Karise Yansen – find themselves, via a big, ancient wardrobe, in the fantasy world of Narnia. The four performers achieve this feat with ease. Karise Yansen is outstanding as she captures CS Lewis’s wonderful insight into the honesty of a young unsullied mind beautifully with her uncluttered portrait of Lucy.
Among the animals who fit seamlessly into the story of good, in the form of the legendary lion, Aslan, and the four evacuees, versus evil in the form of the usurping White Witch Queen and her pack of wolves, are Jez Unwin’s self-effacing, courageous fawn, Mr Tumnus, who also plays cello, flute and piano. Mrs and Mr Beaver, Christina Tedders and Sam Buttery, bring a welcome touch of humour to a script that at times can be very dark and frightening.
The White Witch Queen is not a role you play by halves and Samantha Womack takes every opportunity to play the lady not just in the grand manner, but grand guignol, adding a touch of horror to as many of her evil acts as she can.
We have to wait for half the play before we meet Aslan, and by then most of the audience will have formed very definite ideas about what he looks like and how he will respond to the evil Witch.
This is where I probably disagree with the majority of the audience, who found the idea of combining the splendidly created and manoeuvred oversized Lion, with a live actor, Chris Jared, alongside, dressed in a fur coat speaking the lines, perfectly acceptable. Indeed it would be unfair to criticise Chris Jared’s performance, and interpretation of the role in any way, but I found myself watching and listening to him at the expense of the actual figure of Aslan.
While I have nothing but praise for the work of the singers and musicians involved in the production, and found Benji Bower’s score very atmospheric, adding greatly to the effectiveness of many scenes, I did wish that there was a palpable hit that would linger in the audience’s mind after this exciting, innovative production had been brought to a close.