The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the book I remember most fondly from my childhood. My mother read it to me when I was ten. It had everything: drama, excitement, betrayal, love, redemption … yet, many years later, when I read it to my son, it seemed tame to him. The magic too brief, the battle too quickly over. The timing was wrong, we had just finished the Harry Potter series – and love it or loathe it (and I love it) it is difficult to ignore the impact it has had on children’s literature.
With this in mind, I was not sure what to expect. The Old Fire Station is a small venue; The C S Lewis novel covers a broad landscape. Could the story about Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie and their adventures in Narnia translate successfully from book to stage? Absolutely it could. The small theatre is the ideal locus. It feels just right – the audience can see everything, every nuance, every bat of the White Witch’s sparkly false eyelashes.
At first glance, the set seemed bleak. Three pieces were covered by white sheets. The central piece was the eponymous wardrobe, the other two turned out to be to be the interiors of two of the character’s homes. You might think they would be invasive, but as soon as the covers were thrown back over them, they were forgotten – so much else was going on. There was also a small but effective snow machine, a gas lamp and a screen showing a wintery landscape: the Narnian atmosphere was complete.
Great use was made of sound effects; the small balcony was perfect for the sudden appearance of the inimical White Witch, the children were delighted when Father Christmas ran through the audience to get to the stage.
It seems unfair to pick out any of the characters for special mention. All the cast members played their parts so well and so convincingly – but I cannot resist mentioning my favourites – The excitable Mr Beaver with his wonderful West Country accent and the majestic and noble Aslan. Not only were the two actors (Josh Mullet-Sadones and Kieran Donnelly respectively) perfectly cast but they obviously enjoyed every second of it, they were a joy to watch.
As for my cynical ten-year-old, like every other child in the theatre, he was mesmerized from beginning to end. Walking home over Magdalen Bridge, there was a gentle snowfall around the old style street lamps – we half expected to meet Mr Tumnus.