Family fun in the magical snowy world of Narnia

Members of the company in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Photography by David Hou.

Members of the company in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Photography by David Hou.

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
Stratford Festival 2016
Avon Theatre

Written by C.S. Lewis
Adapted by Adrian Mitchell
Directed by Tim Carroll

Approximate running time: 2 hours and 25 minutes (with one 20-minute interval)

June 2-October 23

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In an age where success in film and other entertainment venues is driven by computer generated imagery (CPI) overkill, returning to the stage for The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is sheer escapist delight – not just for the youngsters but those still young-at-heart.

While it’s true the Narnia saga has been translated into box office blockbusters laden with reliance upon the aforementioned CPI, the Adrian Mitchell dramatization of this C.W. Lewis work offers proof positive that the artistry of innovative and eye-popping images of puppetry is very much alive in theatre.

Director Tim Carroll does a nifty job of bringing the production to life in grand style but it is the mastery of movement and puppetry director Alexis Milligan that ultimately transports a fairly standard children’s tale from reality into the surrealistic realm of magic, allegory (Christian and otherwise) and the child-like wonder of embracing the unknown.

In a perpetually winter-world inhabited by a remarkably wide range of astonishing creatures of all shapes, sizes and colours, Milligan triumphs with such awe-inspiring figures as the majestic lion simply known as Asian (voiced by the venerable Tom McCamus, also on board as the eccentric Professor Kirk) who returns to Narnia.

Lacking the violence and sheer brutality dished out by such current fare as HBO’s more-adult Game of Thrones, this gentler epic tale of good versus bad revels in swashbuckling scenes of doing battle with the evil White Witch (deliciously played by a suitably nasty Yanna McIntosh), dispensing the wicked overlord in bloodless fashion.

So what is the fuss all about?

Journey back to a time when Nazi air-raids during the Second World War put the good folk of Great Britain in grave peril, forcing adults to evacuate children like the four Pevensie youngsters Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy from homes in London to take shelter in country habitats. Featuring a landscape of books towering to the skies above, this particular one is the domain of the odd Professor Digorty Kirk (McCamus).

As well as owning a seemingly endless supply of literary works scattered with great abandon throughout the cavernous estate, he possesses a singular wardrobe which one day unexpectedly becomes a vehicle of transport for young Lucy (Sara Farb) who finds herself in Narnia, land of perpetual snow but no Christmas, ruled tyrannically by the White Witch.

The key right now is to studiously avoid trotting out any dreaded spoiler alerts, a dastardly deed that could well put said critic in league with the aforementioned witch.

Suffice it to say the four eventually embark on a journey together where they meet such notable denizens as the Giant Rumblebuffin (played with height defying humour by Sean Arbuckle) and the happy damn-inhabiting couple of Mr. Beaver (Steve Ross with the longest tail imaginable) and Mrs. Beaver (Barbara Fulton).

As the energetic quartet of brother and sisters, Sara Farb (Lucy), Ruby Joy (Susan), Andre Morin (Edmund) and Gareth Potter (Peter) are well cast, offering up the prerequisite helpings of youthful wide-eyed wonderment with great enthusiasm.

So for an evening of family-fun just add to the mix the witch’s motley crew of henchmen/animals; marvelous scenic contributions from set designer Douglas Paraschuk; the imaginative work of projection director Brad Peterson; handiwork from innovative costume designer Dana Osborne; comic-book battles courtesy of fight director John Stead; magic consultant David Ben and a handful of hummable tunes arranged by Claudio Vena. **** out of five stars.

Geoff Dale is a Woodstock-based freelance writer.

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