Published in 1950, C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is an enduring tale of family and forgiveness. The book was adapted for the screen in 2005, with Liam Neeson as Aslan and Tilda Swinton as Jadis the White Witch. This holiday season, Theatre New Brunswick brings the story to life in a production that’s fun for the whole family, save for some intense moments.
Dramatized by Joseph Robinette, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe tells the story of four siblings who discover the magical world of Narnia after walking through a wardrobe. The first to find Narnia, Lucy (Sasha Mais) meets a fawn named Tumnus (Andy Massingham) who has been ordered by the Witch (Raven Dauda) to kidnap human children. Tumnus refuses to take Lucy to the Witch and helps her escape Narnia. Because he allowed Lucy to go free, Tumnus is taken away by the captain of the Witch’s secret police Fenris Ulf (Qasim Khan).
Lucy returns to Narnia with her brother Edmund (Ben Rutter). Edmund stays put while Lucy goes out to find Tumnus. Edmund meets the Witch who promises him royalty and rooms full of turkish delight if he brings the other three to her castle. The Witch’s plan: To keep the prophecy that promises an end to her reign over Narnia from coming true.
Older siblings Peter (Carter Scott) and Susan (Elena Hrkalovic) join the others in Narnia. With help from Mr. and Mrs. Beaver (Derek Kwan, Allison Basha), the four children embark on an epic journey to help Aslan (Jeremiah Sparks) return peace to Narnia.
Patrick Clark’s set is really neat. The back wall features a large oval frame and within that frame, there are mountain peaks layered behind each other. In the centre of the frame stands a big, tall castle. It kinda has the look of a pop-up book. Outside of the frame, there are trees that resemble a paper craft, a lamppost, and multi-purpose blocks (stone table, Beavers’ dinner table).
Leigh Ann Vardy lights the inside of the frame with frigid blues, and warmer colours when the Witch’s control over Narnia starts to diminish. The lighting work gives Clark’s set a little bit of a Magic Garden vibe. Vardy’s eerie lighting for the scene where Edmund finds the Witch’s enemies, now turned to stone, is stunning.
Sound Designer/Composer Deanna H. Choi makes the production feel like a sweeping epic, despite being staged in quite a minimalist way. Choi’s sound design opens up the world of Narnia with strings and drums.
Robinette’s stage adaptation keeps some of the more harsh elements of Lewis’ story (Aslan tells Peter to wipe Fenris Ulf’s blood off his sword). These parts of the play clash with Lynda Hill’s brisk and upbeat direction, and the colorful pop of the production.
But Father Christmas makes an appearance, so it’s not all grim!
Speaking of not grim, Dauda is comically evil as the Witch. Sure, she has her dark moments, like plunging a knife into Aslan (it’s shadow theatre, don’t worry), but Dauda’s Witch is like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon. The actress is delightfully physical in the role, giving little kicks when things aren’t going the Witch’s way. There is a levity that Hill allows the production to explore and Dauda runs with it.
Kwan and Basha are a great pairing as Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. Clark has dressed the Beavers with big tails, which are attached to overalls. No comically-sized teeth, thank goodness. For the bottom layer, the Beavers wear long-sleeve flannel shirts. If it weren’t for the tails, one might think the couple worked deep in the woods.
Back to Kwan and Basha.
Kwan and Basha are superbly pleasant as the Beavers. Basha’s Mrs. Beaver is a sweetheart, while Kwan’s Mr. Beaver has a little bit of a gruff edge but you know he’s a softie at heart. The actors are a lot of fun to watch.
Who’s afraid of Fenris Ulf? Not me, because Khan’s howls sound more like an angry house cat than a big bad wolf. Which is hilarious. It works well with the ‘cartoonish supervillainy’ of this production.
Massingham is jovial as Tumnus, brutish as the Dwarf, and jolly as Father Christmas.
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe asks us to reflect on what family really means. Family means to love each other despite our faults and to forgive when we are wronged. It’s a strong message for this time of year when families are coming together, sometimes from far away, for the holiday season.
It’s also a hopeful story about good always winning over tyranny, no matter the odds.
The big brother/little brother dynamic is well-performed by Scott and Rutter. I say this as someone with two older brothers. Mais’ Lucy is daring and kind — a small, yet mighty force. Hrkalovic’s Susan is a joy. The four actors make clear the play’s message about family with strong performances and a confidence that pulls the production forward.
And what’s Narnia withouts Aslan? Sparks is fiercely majestic as the good lion. He is a big presence with a big voice that fills the theatre.
TNB’s production of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is fun, exciting, and heartwarming. Step through the wardrobe, a good time awaits you.
Theatre New Brunswick’s The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe ran Dec 13 – 15 at the Fredericton Playhouse. The production is now on tour with performances this week in Moncton.
For more information, visit: http://www.tnb.nb.ca/lion-witch-wardrobe/