In Review

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe review: ‘breathtaking’ tricks and puppetry ‘perfection’

A dazzling and ‘joyful interpretation’ of the classic adventure

The West End has a rich crop of great family shows this summer, said Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph. Now, to add to them, is this terrific revival of Sally Cookson’s adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. First staged in 2017, it manages to be both profound and playful, and makes imaginative use of large-scale puppetry, grand illusions and evocative music to bring C.S. Lewis’s much-loved tale to life. This new incarnation, directed by Michael Fentiman, arrives in London following a national tour, and is crammed with yet more “visual flourishes” and illusions, with superb results. 

Fentiman’s “captivating” production “fits this enormous West End stage like a glove”, agreed Arifa Akbar in The Guardian. It is “still, in spirit, a children’s story”, but it “contains all the grit and gore of war and feels far darker than the 1950 novel”. The puppetry is “perfection” – not least Aslan, a “truly magnificent creation”, and the professor’s house cat, “mischievously” called Schrödinger. Samantha Womack excels as the White Witch: all “hard edges and glaring”, never tipping into pantomime villain. Tom Paris’s set and costume design is a “wonder”; there’s a glorious “Gothicism” to the elegantly creepy lighting; and the magic “is a marvel”. The production is full of “breathtaking tricks” including characters disappearing into thin air. 

Alas, it seemed to me that some of the original’s theatrical magic had “seeped out” of the evening, said Clive Davis in The Times. I found the overall effect less grandly mysterious and fantastical, and more functional. The opening steam train journey “still takes the breath away”, however, with miniature railway carriages held aloft by the cast; the White Witch’s “sinister, mewling crew” of wolves are memorably menacing; and later, we are “dazzled” when she is “propelled towards the ceiling” as her dress unfurls and fills the space. Bewitching for children, the production “takes you to another dimension in all the right ways”, said Rachel Halliburton on The Arts Desk. In a “golden age” of West End puppetry, this “joyful interpretation” of the classic adventure “more than holds its own”.

Until 8 January 2023 at Gillian Lynne Theatre, London WC2 (020-7087 7750); lwtheatres.co.uk

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