The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe


Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In the novel series, A Song of Fire and Ice, it was often said that “Winter is coming”. Well, over in Narnia winter has well and truly arrived and never has it looked so spectacular!

For the holiday season, the Lowry are staging Sally Cookson’s adaptation of C S Lewis’s family favourite, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe which is a visual feast for the eyes.

Sticking relatively close to the source material, this musical production is set during World War Two and follows the evacuation of the Pevensie children: Peter, (Ammar Duffus) Edmund, (Shaka Kalokoh) Susan (Robyn Sinclair) and Lucy (Karise Yansen) from London to Scotland, to the home of the rather odd, but whimsical Professor Kirk (Johnson Willis).

Whilst exploring the house the youngest sibling, Lucy is drawn to the wardrobe where she discovers a gateway to the cold, bleak land of Narnia. There she meets the kindly but scared faun, Mr Tumnus (Jez Unwin). Here Mr Tumnus tells Lucy that Narnia is being held hostage by the White Witch, who has placed the land under a curse destined to experience the harshness of winter forevermore.

Lucy goes back to her family, but none of them believe her. She later returns through the wardrobe followed by Edmund, however Edmund meets with The White Witch (Samantha Womack) who with the temptation of Turkish Delight, decrees that Edmund must bring his brother and sisters to meet her.

Eventually all Pevensie children land in Narnia, where they encounter Mr and Mrs Beever (Sam Buttery and Christina Tedders respectively) as well as a whole host of woodland creatures who are part of the rebellion, battling to end the tyranny of the White Witch and bring about the return of their leader, the lion, Aslan (Chris Jared). With the battle lines drawn it’s time for the children to pick their sides for the ultimate battle of good versus evil.

This is a show packed full of quality with top-end production values which allows the audience to be transported between blitz time Britain and the fantasy world of Narnia. From the fantastic puppetry work of Toby Olié and Max Humphries responsible for the beautiful, graceful, Aslan to the amazing work of Joanna Coe and Susanna Peretz in the costume and make up department who bring the creatures of Narnia to life, from the plucky forest freedom fighters to the haunting, grotesque disciples of The White Witch.

With a production of this scale there are huge expectations of magic, fantasy and huge set pieces which are more than met. The first meeting with The White Witch as she arrives on a huge chariot is excellently executed, as is The White Witch’s elevation to the skies of Narnia covering the stage below with a blanket of snow. These are just two of the numerous awe-inspiring moments.

It’s not just visually where the production excels, Benji Bower and Barnaby Race’s blend of folk and roots compositions work beautifully well, giving the production a human, rustic quality.

In addition there is a superb cast, at first it’s always quite jarring seeing adults playing children, but you soon forget this as we see the four children go from somewhat annoying teenagers to ‘badass’ heroes. Chris Jared, working side-by-side with the puppet incarnation of Aslan, gives the beast an authority and dignity, obviously with Aslan there are comparisons to Christ, but Jared’s lion is more Churchillian, with his roaring battle cry.

With Samantha Womack’s White Witch, we have a cold, icy villain, void of emotion, this along with her movement around the stage seemingly gliding, yet stalking make her a truly memorable villain.

It’s shows like this that make going to the theatre one of the most joyous experiences we can have; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will captivate and enthral audiences from 9 to 90. I’ve no doubt the film version will be on TV during the festive season but treat yourself to this theatrical production and you won’t be disappointed.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is at the Lowry until the 15th January 2022 tickets available here.

 

A Monster Calls

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Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It’s not very often I’ll go into review a show cold: I’ll usually have some idea of plot, cast, etc before going into the the theatre. In the case of A Monster Calls I knew it was based on a book, and there was something in the back of mind telling me that there had been a film adaptation too. In terms of plot I knew very little, had I known I could have prepared for the tsunami of emotions that hit me.

This is the story of Conor (Ammar Duffus), a lonely 13-year-old boy with the weight of the world on his shoulders: harassment from the school’s bully, a father living on the other side of the world, his mother (Maria Omakinwa) is seriously ill. Understandably, it’s his mum’s illness that is of most concern to Conor, confused by what he is seeing and his mother’s reassurance that “everything with be fine” he has no outlet for emotions.

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Conor’s life soon becomes even more complicated when he receives a visit from a monstrous creature. Located in his garden is a giant yew tree, which comes to life at the same time each evening. The yew tree has been on the earth for hundreds of years and informs the boy that he will tell him three tales and in exchange Conor will tell him one in return.

Each night the tree returns with a brutal fable, involving, kings, queens and apothecaries, all with a dark heart to them, there is no happy ever after with these stories. But, what do they mean and how do they help Conor?

Sally Cookson has created a powerful, visceral and devastating adaptation of Patrick Ness’ international bestseller.  This is a fairy-tale that deals with grief, anger and the importance of expressing our emotions, this is an unflinching, unsentimental view of the world through the eyes of teenager, complete with all his frustrations and heartache.

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The production looks and sounds amazing. The haunting score by Benji Bower, is both beautiful and haunting, played masterfully by musicians Seamas Carey and Luke Potter. There use of electronica and voice distortion gives the production a fantasy, other worldly quality.  The staging is simple but affective, just a white floor, with a white back drop where, looking not to dissimilar to a padded cell, adding an element of claustrophobia, despite the vast openness of the stage. Visuals are projected on the wall throughout, and the ensemble cast when not playing their part will double up as visible stagehands handing out props as and when required.

However it’s the recreation of the woodland behemoth that is most impressive: using a series of  giant ropes which cascade onto the stage throughout, the ensemble cast gather them together to form the tree, this coupled with Keith Gilmore’s physical and menacing delivery as the monster, make for an impressive visual spectacle creating a truly intimidating protagonist.

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The production isn’t without it’s flaws, despite a solid showing from the cast, with strong physical and emotional performances throughout they are occasionally let down by some stilted dialogue which is a little distracting, however this is a minor quibble for what is an innovative, powerful piece of theatre.

Having quite recently lost my father, nothing could have prepared me for the emotional sucker punch the production provided during its final moments and judging by the amount of people clearing the sand from their eyes (least that’s what I think it was) at the end of the performance nor was anyone else. Powerful, intelligent and emotional, when this monster calls you had best answer as you won’t be disappointed.

A Monster Calls is on at at the Lowry until Saturday 29th February, tickets are available here.