The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

nytheatre.com review by Wendy Remington Bowie
December 3, 2011

In this dramatization of the C.S. Lewis novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe we meet Lucy and Peter, two adults given the charge to retell the story of their childhood journey and adventures in the magical land of Narnia. Two actors take on all of the roles in the story with little other than a trunk and a coat rack, some offstage sound effects and a few judicious costume pieces.

While playing in an old house one rainy day with her brothers and sister, young Lucy happens upon a passage to the magical world of Narnia through the back of a wardrobe. Narnia is under the oppressive rule of the White Witch, who has gripped Narnia into an everlasting winter. On her first visit, Lucy meets a faun named Mr. Tumnus, the White Witch's spy who is charged with reporting any traitors to the queen. The first human child he has ever met, Mr. Tumnus finds Lucy so delightful that he is unable to turn her over to the witch, despite a prophecy that four human children will appear in Narnia and will take the throne from the White Witch.

Lucy returns through the wardrobe to tell her brothers and sister about Narnia, but none of them believes her wild tale. Her brother Edmund torments Lucy about her made-up story, but on a trip into the wardrobe to tease her, he finds himself in Narnia and face to face with the White Witch, who plies him with magical candy to bring his brother and sisters to her castle. The four children head to Narnia together where they find that Mr. Tumnus has been punished by the Witch for his disloyalty and taken to her castle. Together with a beaver family, the children set off to find Aslan, a great and powerful lion and the true leader of Narnia. Together they fight a heroic battle to banish the White Witch, break her hold over the inhabitants of Narnia and place the children as the rightful and just rulers of the kingdom.

It is wildly ambitious to try to scale down a story as epic as this novel is into a 45-minute play. If you are fiercely loyal to the book version, some of the changes made may be jarring. The dramatization is more a sketch of the story rather than a full telling, and though many details are omitted and some large plot points of the novel are abandoned, amazingly the story does not suffer. Of course in the paring down we lose a lot of dimension in the characters and details of the story—I found that in trying to write the above summary of the play, my memory filled in pieces from the novel that did not survive in the adaption to a play. But seeing the plot sketched did highlight how powerful the main story line is and cemented for me why this novel remains such a classic.

The production is tremendously accessible for young kids (most of the audience was under 10) and it elicited a surprisingly strong and spontaneous response from the kids in the audience with several of them shouting out to the actors. The company may not have been banking on audience participation, but they got it from this crowd. There is a very clear storytelling convention laid out very carefully from the beginning that allows the kids to easily follow the story as it unfolds. And actors Andrew Fortman and Erin Layton very carefully imbue their many different characters with individual vocal and physical specificity.

This is a story that was very dear to me growing up (aw, who am I kidding—it still is) so I was ambivalent about a play version being my daughter’s first impression—skeptical that her imagining of the book would be colored by the play. But the sparseness of the production left plenty to the imagination and in that way allowed everyone’s own vision and imagining, much like it is reading it. Most of the time, the two actors and their few props were able to tell the story quite well, and probably better than trying to realistically create the world of Narnia. But the story is so epic that there are some really big parts of the story, like the final great battle, that couldn’t help but feel a little threadbare. But overall, it is a great primer to introduce the plot and to leap into reading the whole Chronicle of Narnia stories together.

And the kids watching—man, they were all in.

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