Anyone can remember the fascination that they had with magic and adventure as a child. In your wildest dreams, you wished that your imaginary fairytales would someday become a reality. With the mesmerizing Stratford Festival adaptation of C.S Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, your childhood dreams come true as you escape into the world of Narnia that is nothing short of fantastic.
Adapted by Adrian Mitchell and directed by Tim Carroll, the classic children's novel is masterfully recreated to allow audiences to experience the wonderment and magic that Narnia has to offer. Between the literal magic tricks on stage and the fantastical set and costume designs, I can honestly say that as a major fan of Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, the adaptation does an incredible job in bringing this story to life.
The story begins with siblings Lucy (Sara Farb), Susan (Ruby Joy), Edmund (André Morin), and Peter (Gareth Potter), who are at the train station ready to flee London in the midst of World War II to live with the quirky Professor Kirke (Tom McCamus). Lucy, the youngest, discovers the world of Narnia in a wardrobe during a game of hide-and-seek with her siblings. She finds herself in a place filled with talking animals, a never-ending winter, and an evil Queen that is set on stopping the four siblings from fulfilling their destiny of restoring peace and order in the Kingdom.
The biggest distinction that sets this adaptation apart from others is the way Mitchell and Carroll have created a production that is fun, lighthearted, and entertaining for audiences of any age to watch. I couldn't help but smile at the playfulness within the directing that seemed to allow for both the audience and actors to indulge in the simple, childlike joy of the story. Specifically, the brief moments of song and dance embedded within the production were a nice addition that allowed for an entertaining alleviation from the slower parts of the plot. Although I would not classify this production as a musical, the overall attention towards choreography and songs pushed the show further from realism, which only added to its charm.
Even with a stellar cast that performed beautifully as an ensemble, the true magic of this show lies within its design. The set (by Douglas Paraschuk) was comprised almost completely of multi-purpose stacks of books, costumes made of storybook pages, and moving video projections (by Brad Peterson) that made the show dynamic in its design. The subtle use quotes and text from the novel within the set design was a touching nod towards the literary significance of Lewis' work, and this is what resonated with me most as an audience member. Depicting Narnia as a perfect storybook world made the show unique in the best way possible, and had my jaw on the floor from the moment the house lights went down to the final curtain call.
The costumes on their own deserve a standing ovation for making things more enchanting (costume design by Dana Osborne). With over thirty-five hours of work put into the White Witch’s immaculate costume alone, you can only imagine the masterful quality of these designs. I was particularly impressed by the clever use of body puppetry, which gives the appearance of larger than life creatures moving around on their own. With this being used so often within the show, you’re given the time to truly appreciate the craftsmanship and downright delightful costumes that bring the world to life.
At first, I was admittedly a little thrown off when I saw the actors’ legs sticking out from behind their costumes and with the slightly distracting moments that my inner critic couldn't help but fixate on. However, this is the kind of show that heavily relies on an audience that is willing to be persuaded into believing what's on stage. This is the kind of show that you need to let yourself get lost in for a few hours and pretend that you’re ten years old again.
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is playing at the Avon Theatre until Nov. 5. For more information, visit stratfordfestival.ca.