Review and gallery: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Birmingham REP

There’s no doubt that the Chronicles of Narnia may superficially be a set of stories about a group of children’s extraordinary adventures.

Review and gallery: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Birmingham REP

Allison McKenzie (White Witch), Nuno Silva (Aslan), David Albury (Aslan Puppeteer) and James Charlton (Aslan Puppeteer)

However, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first book in the series, contains much in the way of symbolism and examines themes such as compassion and forgiveness, betrayal and spirituality-with the main characters reflecting the central figures of early Christianity.

There’s a battle between good and evil as well as redemption and resurrection to provide a satisfactory conclusion.

Happily, this Christmas season production, directed by the REP’s associate director Tessa Walker, concentrates on telling the story and does so in a way which is absolutely compelling.

The four Pevensie children, evacuees from the London Blitz, are housed in a vast country house which they explore. In one room there is a wardrobe through which Lucy discovers the entrance to Narnia--a land where it is always winter, but never Christmas, as long as the cruel and wicked White Witch controls it.

The transformation from English country house wardrobe to the winter landscape of Narnia is simply quite magical, and suddenly the stage is filled with fantastical animal costumes and a most impressive Dwarf puppet.

The puppet theme continues with a three-man sized puppet version of the Lion King Aslan, very reminiscent of the War Horse creation, and a exceedingly large giant, all created by Mervyn Millar and Jo Lakin.

Lucy (Emilie Fleming) meets Mr Tumnus (beautifully played by Jo Servi), but he is punished by the White Witch-played with real venom by Allison McKenzie).

Edmund (James Thackeray) betrays his siblings for the promise of as much Turkish Delight as he can eat. Peter (Michael Lanni) and Susan (Leonie Elliot) are also involved in the battle, and the children are well looked after by Mr and Mrs Beaver (Thomas Aldridge and Sophia Nomvete) who have some of the funniest lines.

Adrian Mitchell’s dramatisation may seem a little wordy at times, and at nearly two and a half hours the production is perhaps just a shade too long. There are some lively songs and Shaun Davey’s music is played in great style by an accomplished little combo.

Overall, though, this is a superb family entertainment for the festive season. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe runs until January 16th.

By Jerald Smith

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