The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe – Bord Gais Energy Theatre – Review
15 – 19 March 2022
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a much-loved children’s book that tells of a group of kids who are evacuated from London during the Second World War. They are sent to live with a Professor in a large house in the countryside. Once there, they find a wardrobe that can transport them to the magical kingdom of Narnia. There they meet the heroic Lion Aslan and the villainous White Witch, as the children battle to save this far off land.
The book was written by C. S. Lewis and first published in 1951. It is the first part of The Chronicles of Narnia, a seven-book series. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was adapted for the silver screen in 2005, with Tilda Swinton starring as the White Witch. In this production, Samantha Womack takes on the role of the evil sorceress. Womack is mainly known for her role as Ronnie Mitchell in EastEnders but has a long history on the stage.
This production started life in the West Yorkshire Playhouse, in Leeds in 2017. It later travelled to London, where it was staged at the Bridge Theatre. It is now touring the UK and makes its only Irish stop in the Bord Gais Energy Theatre for five nights. This is a rather circuitous route and it shows in this unusual and offbeat production that often relies on invention rather than big-budget special effects. It is not quite as extravagant as some productions arriving at this theatre but this collection of quirky players show that humour and creativity will carry you a long way.
The staging is stylish rather than lavish, with traditional techniques, such as puppetry, lighting and even some circus high wire thrills, taking centre stage. This is a musical and there are regular moments of song and dance. It has a surprising folk music theme, and the actors often carry their stringed instruments around the stage with them, dancing as they play. A piano is the other main instrument and there are many vocal harmonies and other interesting arrangements.
The children are suitably well spoken and there is a touch of ‘jolly hockey sticks’ to the 1940s English setting. There are over twenty actors on stage and the ensemble really add to the storytelling, with the minor characters skulking in the shadows or filling up train compartments. They’ve also added a number of gags to the story, with a cat called Schrödinger never far from the mix. As you would expect, the production is mainly aimed at children but it has more than enough for an adult audience to enjoy. What really stands out are the ensemble cast who breeze easily between acting, singing and playing musical instruments. It must be great to be adept at so many skills!