Despite the company's claims that this new adaptation of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is "the way you remember it from the book," it doesn't really capture the spirit of C.S. Lewis' children's classic. Advertising that the production is "really fast, gently funny and requiring your imagination" is, however, a bit more accurate. But why did this company, noted for its excellent adaptations of previous kiddie lit, decide to dumb down this moving story?
The entire production is played mainly for laughs at such a manic pace that serious moments, primarily Aslan's heroic martyrdom, lack weight and importance. Gregory Hardigan's lion king comes off more like a pussycat than the powerful Narnian ruler. Cary Cronholm's White Witch, an interesting take on the power-hungry villain, brings to mind Molly Shannon on "Saturday Night Live." The theater's claim that younger audience members will find her "intimidating" proved unfounded judging by the kids surrounding me.
In fact that is one of the elements missing in this production: any deep commitment to character. There's very little else to hold our attention in this production, so if the Pevensie children and the mythical inhabitants they meet in Narnia don't take themselves seriously, why should we? But instead of becoming real British children (where were the accents?) these actors seemed flat and cartoonish. The other missing element from this production is a script that's faithful to Lewis' themes instead of a Nicktoon speed-through of the story. Today's young audiences deserve better.
Marc Dunworth's simple, but inventive props skillfully demonstrate the adage that "less is more." The wardrobe becomes a wintery forest and evergreen trees and suitcases instantly turn into gardens of flowers. Many of Branimira Ivanova's costumes show simple ingenuity, too, especially her White Witch creation of bubble wrap, Styrofoam and white plastic tablecloths, which slowly disappear as the witch grows less powerful. The unison tai chi choreography also nicely replicates elaborate stage battles.