Review: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe @ Mayflower Theatre


Leeds Playhouse's use of low-key set and costume design allows this unique adaptation of a beloved classic to flourish.

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Tackling an iconic story in theatrical form is always going to be a challenge, C. S. Lewis’ 1950 novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a beloved classic of children’s literature, with many adaptations having already been produced in the decades since. Yet, there is no doubt that this Michael Fentiman-directed production from Leeds Playhouse, currently on tour across the UK for the coming months, achieves this with flying colours.

Unlike many theatrical productions, this adaptation utilises the simplicity of design to its fullest. There are no large set pieces, with all the intricate details of the world of Narnia allowing for your imagination to fill in those purposefully missing details – fitting in with the story’s altogether theme of discovery and creativity. Had it been a show utilising the forefront technology of costume and set design, it would surely appear very out of place. This also allows for the one scene featuring the sole ‘large’ prop to have all the more impact: the White Witch’s (with a menacing portrayal from Samantha Womack) flowing dress extends and fills the entire stage just before the interval. What a moment to end the first half on!
It is quite magical how set designer Rae Smith manages to create a Winter wonderland on stage merely by using smoke clouding the stage floor and just a few small set pieces. The transitions from Narnia to Professor Kirk’s (Johnson Willis) home is quite remarkable. As if all the packed-out audience had been transported through the wardrobe themselves.

Despite clearly being adults, the lead roles of siblings Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie (Ammar Duffus, Robyn Sinclair, Shaka Kalokoh and Karise Yansen respectively) all portrayed a more than believable sense of childlike wonder, with Yansen particularly stealing the show through her interactions with Mr. Tumnus (Jez Unwin) which had the audience roaring with laughter. 

Another particular highlight was Chris Jared in the role of the rightful King of Narnia, the lion Aslan – who appears on stage alongside a striking puppet of the character. Yet, Jared’s rugged Viking-like image and performance sustained the belief of them being one ferocious unit. In regards to character, however, while Womack did a stellar job with her performance of the White Witch, I couldn’t help but feel that the character was massively underutilised. A real sense of dread from the character can hardly be built up with how little she appears on stage. 

I came into the show not expecting any songs and was pleasantly surprised to hear them sprinkled throughout. While not a musical, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe contains musical performances throughout, greatly enhanced through many of the cast members also performing the instrumentals. (Though, it was quite amusing to notice the cast members who presumably cannot play an instrument be given drums to bang!) In particular, the song that stole the show for me was towards the opening with Mr Tumnus reminiscing on his memories of when Spring existed in Narnia. Unwin’s powerful vocals reveal a side of Tumnus that is largely absent from other adaptations of the novel, allowing for his mentor-like relationship with Lucy to reach emotional heights towards the ending… (which I shall not spoil!)

A final joyous encore performance lifts the mood of the theatre, allowing all to leave their time in Narnia on a momentous high. It summarises what appears to be the production’s ethos of crafting large memories from this more low-key stage production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, yet one that will certainly capture the imagination of anyone young or old. 

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is running at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton from November 23 – 27. You can book tickets here.


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