review: the lion, the witch and the wardrobe

The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe

I must say I felt a fair bit of trepidation at the notion of taking my six year old son to see The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (playing at the Pacific Theatre from now until January 2nd). We are novice theatergoers as a family and this show was indeed the one about the giant majestic Lion and his crusade against a frigid, vindictive Witch was it not? With a ton of  swords, bows and arrows, fearsome wolves and themes of sacrifice, courage, death and rebirth? A family under pressure, each divided against each other, eventually relying upon the youngest to lead the way?

Oh man, I thought. My deeply sensitive child cannot handle anything more controversial than A Charlie Brown Christmas and is likely to pull a freak out the likes of which will run us out of the theatre world faster than my bus transfer expires (the theatre is located in a notorious no-go zone for parking).

To my surprise and relief, these themes and elements certainly still exist exactly as described, but the world that Kerry van der Griend has created speaks more to the longing an adult might have to recapture the magic of their youth and how the magic itself may be cultivated once again through passion and focus. As lofty as that sounds, this play is also so very much like a weekend afternoon spent eavesdropping upon the magical role playing world our children inhabit.

A re-imagining is the best possible way to describe this play. The staging is simple – the space a forgotten room in a sprawling country estate in England. Two young adults (Lucy, played by Donna-Lea Ford and Peter, played by Kyle Rideout) return to the scene of a most extraordinary childhood rite of passage and find themselves caught up in the magic once again.

The two characters begin by retracing their steps leading up to the discovery of the wardrobe and its secret, and find themselves rushing to relive their original adventure. This is the play in its entirety. There are no transitions away from the room, there are no dramatic costume changes and there are minimal lighting changes and only gentle supporting audio effects. Instead, the two characters draw the viewer in through effusive re-enactment, often charming exposition, and evocative physical mannerisms that allow them to represent every character in the story – often trading one role back and forth to allow their primary characters to interact with it within the same scene. The room becomes all of Narnia, and the actors become everyone in it.

As a parent of the aforementioned sensitive child, there is a lot to recommend this show – there are no nightmare inducing visuals, costumes, or gruesome descriptors (even though the ritualized murder of the Heroic lion, Aslan is described it is narrated through the frank perspective of a child and spares the viewer from excessive luridness without losing an iota of gravitas). The actors are engaging and talented, making the most of a spare environment to fill the tiny theatre with an epic storyline from a perspective that supports the source material but does not reinvent it. I thought it was lovely.

On the flip side, I would recommend it for slightly older children. My six year old had a bit of trouble parsing the rapid ‘brit speak’ and clearly felt a little embattled by ‘all the talking’. The two actors are telling a story over the course of two hours, and as good as they were, there were a few other young boys rotating visibly in their seats. Mind you, there were hushes of awe from them time and time again. As long as you don’t go in expecting a Disney experience with more spectacle than substance, it should be well worth your while.

We also loved the hot chocolate and Turkish delight (‘It’s Edmund’s favorite, Mom!’) on sale during intermission. I should have gotten more – I understood Edmund’s predicament very well after the first delicious piece!

K’s Review: “It was pretty good. Only two actors did all the parts. They were funny and really good. I didn’t like all the talking. Again and again and again. Talking.”

The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe runs from Wednesday, November 11th, 2009 to Saturday, January 2nd, 2010 in the Pacific Theatre 1440 West 12th Avenue. Approximate running time 120 minutes:

Reviewed by Rebeccah Mullen and K, aged six.

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