One of the best shows I’ve seen in years
It’s no secret that I’m a massive fan of the West Yorkshire Playhouse and all the productions they put on. I’ve seen some amazing shows there including fantastic dramas (such as Death of a Salesman and To Kill a Mockingbird), musicals (like White Christmas and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), family friendly shows (including The Witches and James and the Giant Peach) and local productions (my favourite being Barnbow Canaries).
This year I was really looking forward to seeing The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. The Christmas shows are always brilliant, so I had no doubt that it would be good, but I wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did. I went with a group of friends on Wednesday night and give it a well deserved 10/10.
If you are planning on seeing the show – don’t read ahead as it’s full of spoilers. Obviously the story’s been out for decades, but I give away a lot of secrets about this particular production. If you’re not going to read on, the summary is that it’s excellent and you should go see it.
The show was in the Quarry Theatre which is normally set up in a semi-circle but this time was in the round. I was a bit concerned that I’d miss some of the dialogue or feel cheated out of some of the performance, but the director had managed to make sure the actors kept seamlessly alternating between different seating sections and the performers did a brilliant job of engaging with everyone.
Before the play started the musicians to the side of stage, all dressed in character, were performing songs which helped get everyone in the mood. These talented musicians played numerous instruments throughout the performance, as well as acting and singing within the show. There were about 100 lanterns hanging from the ceiling above the stage and the audience which also helped create the magic.
From the very first scene, when suitcases were turned into a moving train, you knew you were in for something special. There was actually very little static scenery. Instead the ensemble cast were often used to set the scene, such as when they wore brown fur coats to show inside the wardrobe and then quickly turned them inside out to be white snowdrifts.
The illusion of snow was one of the many impressive things about the production. You knew you were in Narnia, with the White Witch ruling, by use of yards of white fabric hanging from the ceiling, white confetti drifting down, and white sheets on the stage floor which were being moved around by the rest of the ensemble.
The ensemble were put to good use as not only did they double up on extra characters, playing maids in the house, animals in Narnia, and dark creatures in the witch’s army, but they moved and became props, as well as dancing and performing some amazing aerial tricks on ropes hanging from the ceiling. All the cast were brilliant – Carla Mendonça as the white witch was particularly good and John Leader, playing Edmund, gave an impressively energetic performance.
The costumes were also a brilliant part of the production, especially the train on the white witch’s dress which would put any bridezilla to shame. Lighting played an important role as well – the lanterns changed various colours, including a sweet pink during the Turkish delight scene creating an almost psychedelic dreamlike vibe. During this scene one of the ensemble sang quite an eerie, emotive song, one of the few songs within the show, and it was done so well; I loved his voice.
Although there were some scenes that deviated from the original story and some additional characters (adding extra humour), it was all done really well. I particularly loved the scenes with the animals (all with various regional accents!) giving updates on the witch’s whereabouts. From clog dancing Father Christmas to a body-popping wolf, this show had everything. It was a heart-warming production which whisked the audience away to a different world for a few hours.
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is on until 27 January. I know we’re only at the start of 2018, but if you only see one thing this year, I’d make sure you see this.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
[Photography by Brinkhoff/Mögenburg, used with permission from West Yorkshire Playhouse.]