The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
C S Lewis, adapted by Theresa Heskins
New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme
C S Lewis's estate gave approval for the New Vic's artistic director Theresa Heskins to come up with this new version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Any reservations the novelist's descendants might have had about Ms Heskins' treatment of the much-loved fantasy adventure must have been dispelled after only a few minutes.
This is an outstanding success, not just because Ms Heskins directs with an assuredness that comes from working in and knowing every single inch of this appealing theatre-in-the-round; it's also a clever adaptation which retains the magic of the original.
She takes for her inspiration childhood visits to her nan's home which had a spare room where she and three family members slipped off to play. Of course within that room was a wardrobe.
The adaptation begins with a group of children being separated from their families at Waterloo station, the youngsters being evacuated during wartime. They arrive at a professor's house and are allowed to roam wherever they like as they try to keep themselves occupied on a rainy day.
As with many productions at the New Vic, sets and props are kept to a minimum in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Audience members are encouraged to use their imagination as the action moves effortlessly from one scene to the next.
Everything is done simply yet effectively. One of the best examples is the children's journey through double doors into a wardrobe where coats swirl mysteriously before the four youngsters find themselves in the snowy wonderland of Narnia.
The cast of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe features five actors who've worked on the New Vic stage before. Their composure and unruffledness appear to have rubbed off on those around them; there are remarkable performances from everyone in the auditorium.
Michael Hugo, a New Vic regular, gives an endearing display as Mr Tumnus the fawn while Richard Kidd is similarly winsome as Mr Beaver.
Stephen Finegold is impressive as Maugrim, the professor and Father Christmas; former Milky Bar Kid Antony Eden is still boyish enough to carry off the role of Peter, the eldest and most sensible of the children; and Lorna Laidlaw stands out as housekeeper Mrs Macready with her congenial Brummie accent.
Of the New Vic debutants, Jack Blumenau shows just the right amount of callousness as mischievous Edmund; Pam Jolley shrieks, throws tantrums and captures annoying Lucy to perfection; Clara Darcy makes a good impact as Susan; and Nicholas Cass-Beggs is an imposing Aslan.
Six children complete the line-up and throw themselves wholeheartedly into the play, looking especially impressive as the queen's horses and Santa's reindeer.
The other triumph of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the music. I've seen other productions over the Christmas season in which the songs didn't enhance the mood. Here James Atherton's original music is atmospheric, even when his piano is the only accompaniment.
Admittedly not every actor has a good enough voice to sing in a West End musical - but that doesn't matter because everyone sings within his or her limitations.
Theresa Heskins has an extremely competent ensemble cast and creative team behind her who've been rewarded with full houses throughout the run of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It's a superb example of how to stage an enchanting show that appeals to all ages; it's a production that would grace any theatre.
Reviewer: Steve Orme