The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
by C.S. Lewis and adapted by Glen Robbins
Directed by Carla Stokes
Hyde Little Theatre
As a teacher, this book is always one of my “go to stories” for my class read. It is a fabulous work that transports young people to another world, full of mythological creatures such as centaurs, fawns and talking animals. There is also the thrill of magic, and a fight between good and evil in the guise of the White Witch and the king of the world, Aslan, the lion. Who would have guessed that a mundane piece of furniture such as a wardrobe would be a portal to such a fantasy land?
It is a testament to the popularity of this book by C.S. Lewis that it has many incarnations, as a cartoon film, which I remember being shown in the 1970s, a TV series in the 1980s, and full scale cinematic film in 2005, followed by other adaptations of the books in The Chronicles of Narnia. In 1984, this novel was adapted into a play by Glen Robbins, and staged at London’s Westminster Theatre.
Most of the play is set in Narnia, ruled by the evil White Witch. Four children are relocated to an old country house following a wartime evacuation. The youngest, Lucy, visits Narnia three times via the magic of the wardrobe in a spare room of the house. Lucy’s three siblings are with her on her third visit to Narnia. In Narnia, the children are seen as liberators from oppression, as they seem to fulfil an old prophecy, and find themselves adventuring to save Narnia, and themselves, from danger. The lion, Aslan, sacrifices himself to save one of the children; he later rises from the dead, vanquishes the White Witch, and crowns the children, Kings and Queens of Narnia.
It is always a delight when an established society embraces a youth element to their working cycle. The society, for many years, have provided the community with an annual inter-generational pantomime, but since Easter of 2019, the society has worked hard to establish its own youth element, and this is the first production that the society youth (name still to be decided) have been involved. I applaud any society that is willing to invest in the arts, especially drama, and instil a love of theatre in all its aspects. I would encourage any society to engage our youth in drama sessions, as there are tremendous benefits to be had such as team work, confidence building and promotion of self-esteem.
I was particularly impressed with this production for giving an opportunity to some of the youth to work back stage. After all, not all of us want to stand in the limelight, but without these people behind the scenes, it wouldn’t happen at all. Although the lighting and sound plots were put together (very effectively) by Brian Smith and Martin Webber, for show week, under their supervision, they were operated by Luke Weir and Adrian Webber. Congratulations to both these young men, as between them they filled the stage with a good variation of lighting, isolating the different areas and creating moods for scenes that the audience could relate too. The sound effects were on cue, and the pre-recorded elements, and echo, gave the impressions of people talking in the distance and also being in a closed space.
This large cast had to have a large number of costumes, and many of them would have had to be sourced by the actors themselves. It is to the credit of Brenda Starkey and Dawn Ensoll that, due to good co-ordination, the effect was pleasing.
The character makeup, under the careful, artistic hands of Kelly Holder, Alison Bowers, Vanessa Rothwell and others, was lovely to see, especially for those animal characters, in particular Mr. and Mrs. Beaver.
The set design was quite simple, based on an empty stage on which some large props came on and off, such as the Wardrobe, lamp and sleigh which, at times did slow the pace, but because of lighting shifts, most action could continue while scene changes occurred. There was certainly one scene that I thought wasn’t required – the destruction of the fawn’s cave as in a subsequent scene, Mr. Beaver explains what happened to Mr. Tumnus. Maybe this is me being picky.
For a play, this was quite a large cast. Usually there are fewer than ten people, but for this production I counted nearly three times that many, so credit must be given to director, Carla Stokes and the assistant director, Richard Hall, for including so many adults and children in this production, without the stage becoming a mêlée of people.
In fact, Richard was also on stage, in an acting capacity, as Mr Tumnus. He expressed the character’s nervous traits well in both action and expressive vocal dialogue delivery. Not many of the characters were on stage for any tremendous amount of time, but all made an impact, were varied, and kept the audience’s attention.
Cavan Slate gave a relaxed and understanding portrayal of the kindly Professor, while Steph Morris, in both look and tone, was the stern, formidable Housekeeper, Mrs McCready.
Jill Radcliffe was the typical evil White Witch, commanding the stage and all before her. I am sure that if this had been a pantomime, the audience would have booed loudly. Andy Gibson, vocally gave gravitas to the lion, Aslan, and ensured that all diction was carefully paced and confidently delivered so that we all knew that Narnia and individuals were in peril. At times his dialogue sounded like it was written in the style of Old English, Shakespearean in effect. Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, Anna Richardson and Lucy Clarke, were very expressive in their delivery. And. as I said, the makeup was superb.
All other evil actors, Terry Doctor, Bradley Bennett and Luke Jones, and uglies, added their menace to the plot while Libby Hurst, Devon Camps, John Rothwell, and the host of statues, and other animals, helped turn the battle so that good overcame evil.
The four leads, Evie Dewsnap (Lucy), Oliver Jones (Edmund), Amy Hall (Susan) and Jack Findlow (Peter) were all equally adept at their line delivery with clear and loud voices that could be heard at the rear of the auditorium. This may sound like a given but it is a skill that is learnt. The art of projection is quite often a thing that younger children cannot achieve. Each had given thought to their character - sturdy, no-nonsense Peter, quiet gentle Susan, naïve Lucy and a challenging Edmund who redeems himself later.
The audience sat in polite silence as this is not a laugh-out-loud play, but it must have been gratifying to all on, off and backstage, to hear the cheers during the finale.
May I thank everyone in the society for their kind hospitality, and I very much look forward to the beginning of the next season, and especially to see the progress members of the youth section make in their drama journey.