Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre Lukewarm in Narnia

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre Lukewarm in Narnia

Article excerpt

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Kensington Gardens, until 9 September The Witness Royal Court Upstairs, until 30 June Off to Narnia.

Director Rupert Goold has recreated C.S. Lewis's permafrosted fantasy world in a circus tent moored in Kensington Gardens. And at the height of summer too. An impossible feat. But tons of cash, and many months of preparation, have been sunk into this effort.

The show starts with The Wardrobe looming up in the middle of the stage, like a fat slab of mystery, a sort of Tardis perhaps, or the Kaaba at Mecca. Not much like a wardrobe, though. A child steps out and finds herself in a freaky kingdom run by a demented tundra-monger. Here she comes.

Sally Dexter, playing the queen in a luminous white bedsheet, cackles sexily and yells commands at her cowering minions. Then she whooshes off in a great surge of whip cracks and dry ice. 'Was that a bit scary?' I said to my five-year-old son. 'No, ' he said. 'Was it for you?'

The children meet some beavers and together they take on the forces of evil. Aslan arrives.

Everyone applauds. 'I don't like that Aslan, ' said the voice beside me.

The head is magnificent.

The eyes are black vacancies, rather than colourful gems, which deletes any spark of vitality.

Aslan's pelt is wooden rather than furry and the body is composed from its skeletal rudiments so it resembles God's prototype instead of the finished animal.

The movements are achieved with the same three-man technology as War Horse. But not so effectively. The swivelling fluidities of a lion turn out to be quite uncapturable. So Aslan tiptoes gingerly around the stage like a holidaymaker practising his walk after a skiing accident. But the character's essentials remain: the majesty, the melancholy, the magnetic forcefulness. And David Suchet's voice is a wonderful purring pleasure.

The show has a lot of everything. Bangs and smoke, songs and pipes, stilt-walking and wire-dangling. The props and costumes are drawn from every culture on the planet but there's no house style, no unifying principle. The highlights of the show are Aslan's sacrifice, which is done with scary brilliance, and the magical disappearance of his body afterwards. But something's not right. Narnia feels a bit room-temperature. The darkened stage, for example, is entirely free of snow. Artful video projections show us blizzards streaming and slivers of ice crystallising. But these don't make you feel cold any more than abstract sculptures in hospitals make you feel better. …

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