Thursday, 14 June 2012

Theatre Review: 15 June

If you are looking for magic, you won’t nd it behind this wooden door

Written by Georgina Brown

Every time I see a big old wooden wardrobe (usually in an elderly aunt's spare room) or a full-length fur (often worn by elderly aunt) or look out on snowscape trees encrusted with glistening ice flakes, I am transported to Narnia all over again. Of all the stories I read as a child, The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe made the most dramatic impression.

Had I not spent so many hours in the Narnia in my head, perhaps I might have been more readily swept away by Rupert Goold's adaptation of CS Lewis's classic. Goold, who also co-directs with Michael Fentiman, is by far the most exciting and inventive theatre maker around. The magnificent big top that has been erected in Kensington Gardens for the show, creates a circus-like atmosphere perceptible as soon as you take your seat. It is a fabulous space, allowing an all-round blizzard of computer-generated snowflakes to be projected on the walls.

Indeed, there's no shortage of razzledazzle and pyrotechnics. What is lacking is real theatrical magic. The wardrobe itself is all wrong. For a start, it pops up in the middle of the stage so only part of the audience gets a view of the children walking into it. Then they fly up out through the roof so there's little sense of arriving anywhere specially enchanted, least of all a land of perpetual winter, though, admittedly they have by now put on enviable furs to keep the chill at bay.

Adult actors play the Pevensie siblings, and while they avoid those awful pigeon-toed performances grown-ups tend to adopt when pretending to be children, they remain comparatively characterless and colourless.

The star is Aslan, the lion, but you must wait until the second half for his appearance. A magnificent beast with a mane of oak leaves, limbs of grained wood, an astonishing springiness in his paws, he is superbly operated by a trio of puppeteers. So far, so War Horse, but he has none of the expressiveness of War Horse's Joey or Topthorn so subtly created by twitching ears, snickers and heaving flanks, and he seldom roars into thrilling leonine life.

Even the usually excellent ravenhaired Sally Dexter's White Witch fails to make my blood freeze, invariably upstaged as is the rest of this show by the vivid pictures that have delighted my imagination for decades. It's no more than a posh panto.

At the Threesixty Theatre, Kensington Gardens, London: box office 0844-871 7693,

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