Theatre in Wales

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Superb

At the Sherman

Sherman Theatre- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe , Sherman Theatre , December 12, 2015
At the Sherman by Sherman Theatre- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe A year ago to the day a ten-thirty in the morning performance of “Arabian Nights” earned itself a mighty thumbs-up on this site. In October an Ibsen in Hammershøi tones impressed. “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is a stylistic continuity from Arabian Nights”. Four of the ten actors have returned in 2015. Gareth Wyn Griffiths is again musical director.

Rachel O’Riordan’s production is two hours of brilliance of integrated colour, movement, word and music. Cardiff’s producing theatre retakes its rightful place of eminence within the theatre of Wales. It is southern pole to the northern star of Theatr Clwyd. This is entirely the accomplishment of the front-line makers of theatre. The relinquishing of eminence in the capital city should never have been tolerated in the first place.

This viewer in the back row differs from the rest of the audience. It is not just that he is twice the height, four times the bulk, eight times the age of the average audience member. It is that Narnia is a return visit, one of familiarity, where it is more likely a land of novelty for the others. The film series which petered out was too heavily a Peter Jackson clone and left small impact behind it. Biography is the bane of the Internet; nonetheless all performance is seen through the filters of personal experience. The man at the back was also once a Year Four pupil, one too often stuck at home with infection of adenoid and tonsil. Too old for Bill and Ben C S Lewis was a world to sink into. Pauline Baynes’ small and magical drawings were a crucial part of Narnia. The still image has great power and her art lives on undiminished, after sixty-five years, where the films have faded. The best that can be said about the Sherman’s winter show is that it creates an artistic image that is equal, in the language of its own medium, to that of Pauline Baynes.

“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is faithful to the text. Edmund is still seduced by Turkish Delight. In 1950 Britain was not only a land where rationing persisted but that sweets were the last item to be made freely available. Most of the audience probably has probably never known a faun. The production wisely lets its actors act. The theatre-maker has many tools but cannot compete with the illusion of CGI. Pete Ashmore does not have to totter on animal feet. Howard Chadwick is beavery in the playing rather than under a great pelt. Matthew Woodyatt is regal but suggestively leonine.

This audience falls into immediate attention at the entrance of the first character. The theatrical image is immense. The contour of the stage is mirrored by back projections that curve around the back of the space. Dick Straker chooses a palette of colours from Braque for the interiors of the mansion that provides refuge for the four wartime evacuees. The projections, of a subtle and regular beauty in their own right, blend with the icicles and the blues of the stage that conjure up the never-changing winter that is the Narnia of Anita Reynolds’ white witch. Takis’ design makes seamless the transition between two worlds. Kevin Treacy’s lighting creates a world of dark adventure. The shadows of tangled tree branches reach to the edge of the stage.

Design and light, particularly on the scale of this production, are nothing if they upstage the actors. Aesthetic accomplishment- disregarded by theatre’s modists and fashionistas- is formal integrity. A cast of size- ten in all-fills the stage with sound and movement. Speech and song blend. There are nudges of narration, provided by Keiron Self, that are required to propel the action but they are occasional.

There is a fine attention to acting detail. The actors are neither children nor animals. Gwawr Loader is not twelve but she is a twelve-year old for the stage. Elin Philips as Susan makes a sideways move of the head. It is that of a teenager and not that of an adult.

“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” has a literary source so that its structure is that of book rather than play. It matters not in the slightest, given the sweep and the colour in its translation to performance. It is faithful to C S Lewis but the adaptation is also in the hands of a dramatist. Theresa Heskins creates a first-act climax that is her own but in its deviation from the source is absolutely right for theatre. It works. The second act opens with cheers and whoops from the row upon row of Welsh children, a prelude to the din that accompanies the last word.

The life of an actor has many an idiosyncrasy and this is truly one of them. The time is just short of half past mid-day. The rest of a blustery Cardiff is a-bustle and going about its business. In one building ten visible women and men, and a whole lot more behind-the-scenes, are basking in their creation, the making of collective rapture.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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