Review Roundup: THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE at the Bridge Theatre
Based on the novel by C. S. Lewis and directed by Sally Cookson, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is now playing at the Bridge Theatre running to 2 February, 2020.
The cast features Femi Akinfolarin as Peter, Omari Bernard as Maugrim, Laura Elphinstone as the White Witch/Mrs Macready, Shalisa James-Davis as Susan, Wil Johnson as Aslan/Professor Kirk, Keziah Joseph as Lucy, John Leader as Edmund, Stuart Neal as Mr Tumnus, Dean Nolan as Mr Beaver and Beverly Rudd as Mrs Beaver. They are joined by Emily Benjamin, Amber Cayasso, Sebastian Charles, Andro Copperthwaite, Nicky Cross, David Emmings, Nathan Louis Fernand, Linford Johnson, Mitch Leow, Mei Mac, James McHugh, Helen Parke, Tinovimbanashe Sibanda and Millicent Wong and musicians James Gow, Tim Dalling, Harry Miller and Pat Moran.
Step through the wardrobe this Winter into the magical kingdom of Narnia for the most mystical of adventures in a faraway land. Join Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter as they wave goodbye to wartime Britain and say hello to a talking Faun, an unforgettable Lion and the coldest, cruellest White Witch.
Let's see what the critics are saying...
Michael Billington, The Guardian: Lewis's book is sometimes criticised for its political and religious orthodoxy but this version is careful to suggest that, in an ideal Narnia, everyone will be equal before the law. Cookson, designer Rae Smith and movement director Dan Canham create an engrossing spectacle. Laura Elphinstone's majestically icy White Witch appears on a mobile platform that resembles the prow of a ship; winter is evoked through billowing parachute silk and spring through an aerial ballet. The puppetry, under the direction of Craig Leo, encompasses a marmalade cat called Schrödinger and a Santa who transforms into a very human, clog-dancing accordionist. It is very much an ensemble show, although Adam Peck is credited as "writer in the room", and Keziah Joseph as the adventurous Lucy and John Leader as the quisling Edmund stand out. Any fears that today's children would be puzzled by the plight of wartime evacuees were also dispelled by the audience with which I saw the show, who entered wholeheartedly into the world of Lewis's magical fable.
Dominic Cavendish, Telegraph: The evening proves (forgive the hoary phrase) absolutely spellbinding: witty, gripping, moving. Cookson and co's imagination answers that of the original and awakens our own. One line in the novel's first paragraph, establishing that the four Pevensie children find themselves in a sprawling, mysterious country mansion "because of the air-raids", has provided the artistic jumping-off point.
Anthony Walker-Cook, BroadwayWorld: Bruno Poet's lighting is instrumental in establishing the mood of each scene, and Craig Leo's puppetry is stunning. Susanna Peretz's make-up also warrants praise. For a piece mostly set in the all-encompassing canvas of white snow, there's a beautiful amount of colour throughout...it's a testimony to Rae Smith's design and the production quality of the entire show that the children in the audience seemed completely enraptured. Just being in the theatre is a magical event.
Rachel Halliburton, The i Paper: CS Lewis purists need not fear: this production - which initially played triumphantly at Leeds Playhouse - very much draws its magic from the original. In a post-Philip-Pullman, and, let's face it, post-middle-class age, any director needs to interrogate the class-bound Christian roots from which this timeless novel was allowed to grow. What Cookson and "Writer-in-the-Room" Adam Peck have done is to identify that the magic comes from a child's ability to appreciate the infinite wonders of the universe.
Claire Allfree, Metro: It's spectacular using only the simplest of props: suitcases for train carriages, white sheets and duvets for snow, the latter used so inventively that Narnia's frozen icescape looks different each time. There are puppets, aerial acrobatics and a great use of trapdoors - in one instance, up pops up a steaming mug of tea.
Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out: Cookson and designer Rae Smith delight in the novel's eccentricities rather than fight them: their Narnia is a DIY-inflected nirvana where a very funny sight gag about talking animals communicating via cans on strings can sit next to Elphinstone being genuinely terrifying, swelling to enormous height as cackling fiends gather around her.
Alex Wood, WhatsOnStage: There are some fine performances peppered throughout Cookson's production - John Leader, retaining his Midlands twang, makes evacuee child Edmund simultaneously likeable and flawed in the way only a young teen could be, while Wil Johnson's Aslan is sage yet never stern, delivering some of the show's best scenes alongside an army of accomplished puppeteers and an effervescent Keziah Joseph as Lucy Pevensie. A musical number featuring Santa Claus is a runaway highlight. But much like Cookson's last family production to be revived in London, the show takes too long to get into gear, with a meandering first act full of painfully unnecessary moments (a blues-y ballad about Turkish Delight comes to mind). A large chunk of the plot therefore ends up being crammed into a much swifter second act. For all her acting prowess, Laura Elphinstone is fay, yet sadly far from fearsome as the White Witch, meaning the stakes never feel all that high.
Clive Davis, The Times: Instead of bombarding us with extravagant, multiplex-style special effects, Sally Cookson's production - first seen in the round at Leeds Playhouse in 2017 - invites us to use our imagination. Designed by Rae Smith, a veteran of War Horse, the drama combines the make-do-and-mend ethos of the era of rationing with an authentic sense of the magical.
Patrick Marmion, Daily Mail: Choreographed acrobatics see the witch's slaves twirling on ropes overhead, while Benji Bower's music is a hypnotic murmur of Jethro Tull-like electric folk. This evolves into gothic organ music, and then primal pounding for the final sacrifice, as Hieronymus Bosch-style demons rise up from Hell (small children may be alarmed, though none were when I went).
Natasha Tripney, The Stage: Keziah Joseph's Lucy is plucky and spirited, while John Leader brings a dash of vulnerability to the role of Edmund, a character who can often come across as a snivelling bully. While the production is a little on the long side and some of the songs feel superfluous (though this is definitely not the case with the delightful tap-dancing Santa sequence), Cookson's staging is infused with adventurous spirit and studded with moments of magic.
Nick Curtis, Evening Standard: The show works best in carnival mode, when the huge Aslan puppet and his cadaverous rivals do battle, when giant flowers are passed down the auditorium for an exuberant dance routine. I quite liked the folky, clog-dancing Father Christmas, too. To be fair, there was no sign that the children in the audience were bored, but you expect a bit more excitement from a Christmas show.
Connor Campbell, The Upcoming: Though most of the play's problems stem from the source material - John Leader's sour and petulant Edmund is the only interesting Pevensie - the show itself makes a couple of missteps. Wil Johnson's Aslan, i.e. Disney's The Lion Christ, is a cookie-cutter saviour without much gravitas. And the ending sequence sees the classy presentation swapped for a design more in line with a school production of Cirque du Soleil's Ovo. It is a testament to Cookson's ability to make you feel like a wide-eyed child, then, that these issues amount to nitpicking in the face of her warming journey through the wardrobe.
Hari Mountford, The Londonist: This really is a production for all generations - even though the production is marketed as 6+, perhaps don't bring the under 8s (or do but cover their eyes, when the White Witch appears). There is definitely more of a focus on the special effects and spectacle of the show, rather than the actual story, but it does make for a full-on sparkly and impressively festive production.