The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
At the Avon Theatre, Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont.
Based on the novel by C.S. Lewis
Adapted by Adrian Mitchell
Directed by Tim Carroll
Movement and Puppetry Director, Alexis Milligan
Set by Douglas Paraschuk
Costumes by Dana Osborne
Lighting by Kevin Fraser
Composer, Shaun Davey
Projections Designed by Brad Peterson
Sound by Todd Charlton
Cast: Sean Arbuckle
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is Stratford’s selection for the Schulich Children’s Plays. It is based on C.S. Lewis’s second book of seven in the Chronicles of Narnia series of fantasy books for children. Lewis wrote this particular story for his Goddaughter, Lucy Barfield who is Lucy in the book.
It’s England in World War II. Four precocious children—Lucy, Susan, Edmund and Peter– are relocated for their safety from London to deep in the English countryside. They are to be billeted with eccentric Professor Kirk, his crusty housekeeper Mrs. Macready and various other servants. The house is big and the Professor invites the children to explore. The mysterious wardrobe in on the third floor. Young Lucy enters the wardrobe while her siblings are off somewhere. She pushes at the back wall and enters the world of Narnia, where it is always winter but never Christmas.
Lucy has many adventures—she meets all manner of animals who walk on hind legs, talk and even sing, Mr. Tumnus being just one. He says that the kingdom of Narnia has been put under a spell by the White Witch. She has told Mr. Tumnus he has to be on the lookout for a young child—he’s never seen one—so that he can take that child to the White Witch and presumably the spell might be lifted.
When Lucy finds her way back to the Professor’s house she tells her siblings and they then join her on their own adventure through the wardrobe and into Narnia. There is a showdown between the White Witch and the majestic Aslan that I won’t give away.
Director Tim Carroll has envisioned an efficient set that changes locations—and there are a lot of them—quickly by the use of video projections that slide across the back wall and on to side screens that rise and fall as well. There are vistas of landscapes as the video moves from one end of the set to the other. There are snow effects. There are travelling fir trees suggesting the crossing of distances. There is a white sleigh carrying the mean, tetchy White Witch. There are singing beavers and other animals. It certainly is a happening place.
And if I hadn’t seen many of the same travelling videos across screens or travelling trees in the same formation at other theatres over the years, I’m would have thought this production was very inventive and clever. It’s just that I’ve seen this techno stuff before and with more invention. In an effort to be efficient, the effect just seems busy.
When the majestic Aslan and the various puppets make their compelling entrance half-way through Act II, things perked up. Sure, one is reminded of War Horse and The Lion King, but not in a diminishing way. The puppets are dazzling and so is the movement. (kudos to Alexis Milligan).
The quartet of actors who play the siblings are all engaging. Sara Farb is a serious, precocious Lucy; Ruby Joy is a reticent and also serious Susan; André Morin as Edmund is an imp who always gets into trouble but his siblings pull him out, and Gareth Potter as Peter, is a responsible, protective older brother.
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is aimed at the young audience and their families. A few tweaks might be in order: Barbara Fulton is a lovely singer but her beaver’s teeth as Mrs. Beaver prevent her from singing/saying anything distinctly, perhaps some beaver dentistry? Josue Labourcane as the Troll might bring it down a bit so we can understand him.
Plays until Oct. 22, 2016.
Shakespeare in Love.
At the Avon Theatre.
Based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard.
Adapted for the stage by Lee Hall
Directed by Declan Donnellan
Designed by Nick Ormerod
Composed by Paddy Cunneen
Choreographed by Jane Gibson
Lighting by Kevin Fraser
Sound by Peter McBoyle
Cast: Brad Hodder
Ok we all loved the film of Shakespeare in Love. Lee Hall’s adaptation of it brings that vibrant film to the stage and director Declan Donnellan (who also loves the film) has recreated the energy, romance and passion for the stage. They are not replicating the film; they are adapting it. The result is terrific.
Shakespeare is suffering from writer’s block. He’s writing a sonnet and has the first few words: “How do I compare thee…” but is stuck on what comes after. His friends and colleagues hover over him offering suggestions, especially Kit Marlowe, a playwright in his own right. Shakespeare doesn’t seem to be too bright. He soon makes up for it.
He has promised plays to various actors and producers. He’s written nothing. Pretty soon he gets his groove back. He also meets his biggest fan, Viola de Lesseps. She’s an young aristocratic woman who often goes to the playhouse to hear Shakespeare’s plays. She knows them almost by heart. When they meet he is touched and smitten. She is too. She decides to get closer to him. She disguises herself as a boy to audition for the part of Romeo in a play that Shakespeare has written. She’s not auditioning for Juliet (the other main part of his play) because women were not allowed on the stage at that time. She gets the job and so the charade continues. Her father has also promised her hand in marriage to a rich bully who thinks theatre is silly. Sparks fly.
Declan Donnellan has directed a quick, almost breathless paced production, with wit, wonderful detail and the most wonderful realization of the two lovers of Shakespeare (Luke Humphrey) and Viola (Shannon Taylor). They can’t keep their hands off each other, but not in a groping way. There is tenderness, affection, intimacy and love in their hands touching hands, a stroke on a cheek, a caress of the hair. You sense the euphoric sensation Humphrey is experiencing by being in the beguiling Viola’s presence. Shannon Taylor is almost lightheaded with love for Shakespeare. Both Humphrey and Taylor have that youthful conviction, confidence and fearlessness when they have love on their side. As Ned Alleyn, Brad Hodder is athletic, virile and goofy in a lovely way. As Queen Elizabeth, Sarah Orenstein creates a new definition of regal and haughty. Karen Robinson as the Nurse would be more effective is she brought everything down—voice, expression, flailing arms—down by 50%.
George Meanwell does really well playing every instrument ever created it seems. Paddy Cunneen creates music that sounds of the time of Queen Elizabeth I. The rousing dance at the end is the perfect ending to a lively, joyous, funny and moving production.
Plays until Oct. 16, 2016.