Photo by Rachael Lowndes Photo by Rachael Lowndes

Review: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the Rose Theatre Kingston

Written for Everything Theatre

For anyone who’s not feeling up to the annual avalanche of cross-dressing, dirty jokes and ‘I’m sort of a celebrity, put me in a panto’-casting choices: the Rose Theatre has just the ticket for you. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe might not be your typical Christmas offering, but this family musical will get everyone in the festive spirit nevertheless.

Theresa Heskins has created an attractive stage adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ classic story that includes the original’s most lovable characters and memorable moments. A quick recap for the adults: siblings Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter are evacuated to the countryside to escape the London Blitz. In the house of the old professor they’re staying with, they find a big wardrobe full of dusty fur coats. And behind the coats, they find Narnia, a land full of fauns and talking beavers that’s ruled by the evil White Witch. The four children are the only ones who can save Narnia from its fate of ‘always winter, never Christmas’, so they set out to find the lion Aslan and defeat the witch.

There’s a lot to like about this production for all members of the audience, regardless of their age. In the first scenes the stage is dominated by the gigantic wardrobe, which slides apart to make way for Narnia’s shimmery, snow-covered forest. Snow flutters down from the ceiling, to the younger children’s great excitement. It’s a fantastic moment, although its early timing is perhaps less than ideal: for some of the kids around me, the snow clearly was the highlight of the show that was never going to be topped by anything following. Fortunately, the story has plenty of engaging characters that capture the imagination, from the faun Mr Tumnus to Father Christmas himself. They’re all portrayed by an excellent cast, a mix of adult professionals and children and young adults from the Rose Youth Theatre. It’s a remarkably well-integrated ensemble where the two groups are complementary: the young actors can very well hold their own against their adult counterparts, and director Ciaran McConville has not orchestrated any unnecessary fluffiness where the grown-ups are upstaged by the cuteness of their colleagues. Kate Tydman has a fantastic turn as the intimidating, Christmas-hating White Witch (who, incidentally, seems to be channelling George ‘austerity cuts’ Osborne), and the four Penvensie children are a real treat.

At just over two hours the show is a little long, especially for younger kids: particularly the first act could be pacier. Original songs by Eamonn O’Dwyer serve nicely to speed the proceedings along, but if you’re looking for the usual catchy, jazz-hands-inducing musical numbers you’re in the wrong place here. Instead, we get beautiful, occasionally haunting sounds that are probably less appealing to the children than to the adults (but hey, we’re allowed to have something as well). Meanwhile, the choreography is slick, the fight scenes are believable without being frightening and the choice to have the ensemble narrate parts of the plot and even describe the set ties everything up into a tight, neat package.

It can’t be denied that, for those of us living in central or east London, Kingston is a bit of trek. Venturing out there comes with its rewards though: a comfortable, spacious theatre, lovely views of the Thames from the window of the bus and, of course, a wonderful show. So why not take your kids for a trip to this land beyond the last stop on the Overground? A magical adventure is waiting for you.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe plays until 4 January 2015 at the Rose Theatre Kingston