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Review: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury

How do you breathe new life into a story familiar to adults and children alike?

There can be few who have not read or watched the adventures of Lucy and her siblings as they disappear through the titular wardrobe into a snowy land of mythical creatures and talking animals, ruled over by the evil White Witch.

Shaka Kalokoh as Edmund with Samantha Womack
Shaka Kalokoh as Edmund with Samantha Womack

First published in 1950, the first - although second chronologically - of C.S Lewis' seven Chronicles of Narnia has not been out of the public consciousness since, with the 2005 big screen adaptation only served to cement its place as a family classic.

Bringing it to life is a challenge original producer Sally Cookson and War Horse designer Rae Smith tackled head-on, creating one of the most imaginative stagings I have seen at the Marlowe.

It's a production that would test the brightest imaginations - how do you portray the Pevensie children emerging from the dusty wardrobe into a frozen fantasy land?

How do you recreate the awe-inspiring Aslan or show Spring emerging in Narnia? And it's a test that it passes on every ravishing level.

The production is at the Marlowe until Saturday
The production is at the Marlowe until Saturday

Samantha Womack makes for a perfect, under-stated White Witch - avoiding the temptation to over-play the role panto-style, a menacing, icy presence but never to scary for the many children in the audience.

Producers have long wrestled with the challenge of bringing Aslan to life - do you opt for man or beast?
In this case you get the best of both worlds, with puppet and actor in perfect working in harmony - it shouldn't work, but it does.

The spectre of the Second World War looms heavily over this atmospheric production, with the audience greeted by a lone piano-playing Tommy as they enter the auditorium.

Music plays a big part, with the folky score producing some memorable scenes with Narnia's animal inhabitants.

But it is the spectacular set-pieces that will live long in the memory - the stunning end to the first act as the White Witch soars high above the stage; the climatic final battle between the forces of good and evil.

For a story so well-know, this production feels remarkably fresh - it's magical in every way.

  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe runs at the Marlowe until Saturday with very limited tickets remaining.
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