“The world is a book, and those who don’t travel only read one page,” says Professor Kirke at the beginning of The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe.
Fortunately for the audience surrounding the stage at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, this new production leads us through the doorway and into the magical realm of Narnia, a land of snow, wood and deep magic. It is a hugely inventive, wonderfully escapist and ultimately heart-warming flight of fantasy from the director Sally Cookson and her ensemble cast of talented performers.
The stage is set in the round, which succeeds in drawing the audience closer to the show. Props are minimal. Instead, the production makes maximum use of sound, light and drapes to evoke the setting for the struggle between good and evil that consumes our young travellers.
The costume design is superb, effortlessly conjuring up the attire of the 1940s. Enormous fur coats reverse into silk white gowns as the children enter Narnia through the wardrobe. Once there, the story gathers pace and we meet the White Witch, who does a thoroughly convincing job of portraying a cold and mortal threat to Edmund, Lucy, Susan and Peter.
Meanwhile, Maugrim is a snarling, contorting and physically menacing wolf captain of the secret police. It is one of the standout performances of the night by Ira Mandela Siobhan.
When Aslan the Lion enters with his enormous mane, the warmth, benevolence and safety from harm that he projects is almost palpable. It is then up to the children to confront and overcome the tyranny of the White Witch, which of course they do. Fairy tales usually have happy endings.
The young cast of Patricia Allison (Susan), Michael Jean-Martin (Peter), Cora Kirk (Lucy) and John Leader (Edmund) deliver first-class performances and bring the children with their differing challenges, characters and personalities to life. And the fight scenes are spectacularly choreographed and make the most of the physical dexterity of the cast and the space afforded by the circular stage.
Also worthy of note is the live soundtrack, performed by a tight band and offering a nod variously to the works of Massive Attack, Elbow and Nick Cave.
All in all, I can thoroughly recommend this production to readers of Northern Soul. Theatre has a special and longstanding place in our national life and good theatre is magical, as this show most certainly is.
The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe is at West Yorkshire Playhouse until January 27, 2018. For more information, click here.