Review: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
Theresa Heskins’s adaptation of CS Lewis’s great Christian allegory The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe enjoyed critical acclaim when it premiered, under her direction, at the New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme in 2009. Watching this staging at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum, one can see why.
The script is faithful, yet ever mindful of itself as a theatrical drama. The departure of the Pevensie children from war-torn London to the country mansion of eccentric Professor Kirke is dealt with sensitively, but quickly.
In no time at all, intrepid little Lucy (performed beautifully by Claire-Marie Seddon) is clambering through the wardrobe into the bleak wonderland of Narnia. Having met the good-hearted faun Mr Tumnus (Ewan Donald on charming form), she is soon enticing her three siblings into the fantastical world where the evil White Witch reigns.
Heskins’s play is clear, direct, yet poetic. If only director Andrew Panton’s production was equally self-assured. As it unfolds on Becky Minto’s set, which is as visually delightful as her lovely costume designs, the show begins to lose momentum. This is due, in part, to some poor directorial decisions (the driving off of the White Witch by invisible birds looks silly) and a few clumsy moments with ungainly, large props.
Such errors would be forgivable, were it not for the unevenness in the cast. If his casting is any measure, the director seems to have a preference for evil over good.
Pauline Knowles is outstanding as the fabulously attired White Witch. As seductive as she is ruthless, it’s no wonder that young Edmund succumbs to her as she plies him with Turkish delight.
The Witch’s weaselly driver is also perfectly cast and brilliantly costumed (his head disappearing, hilariously, in his huge coat). Lewis Howden seems to have reimagined Queen Victoria’s Scottish gillie, John Brown, in his embodiment of servility.
Over on the side of good, things aren’t going quite so well. Ben Onwukwe is dreadfully miscast in the all-important role of Aslan, the lion king.
Visibly lacking in conviction, the actor simply cannot find the gravitas, power or emotional warmth required by his character. Such a casting error is devastating. Like the Bible story upon which it is based, Lewis’s tale needs its audience to believe in its king.
Until January 3. 0131 248 4848 ; lyceum.org.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on November 29, 2015
© Mark Brown