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.

 

Vignettes

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Following a hugely successful run back in February of 2020, HER Productions in conjunction with Alex Keenlan, return to Hope Mill Theatre with a new set of Vignettes: a series of short plays from some of Manchester’s finest writers.

With six stories showcased, there is something for everyone, from family drama to sci-fi, kitchen sink to sitcom, all sharing the common theme of humanity. All have something to say about the world we live in.

It’s a smart choice to open with Fresh Meat: a sharp, fun story of empowerment as Abbi (Carrie Crookall) takes the plunge to visit a strip club, where she meets sassy dancer Frankie (Shireen Ashton). Despite their initial difference, the two ladies have more in common than they think. The script is packed with some punchy dialogue and two really fun performances.

The next offering  is Wildfires, a story looking at discovery and being out of your comfort zone. Niamh (Amy Gavin) reluctantly joins a retreat in the hope of making new friends and seeking out some answers, but things don’t quite pan out as they should. Again, a sharp, witty script with some solid work from the ensemble cast.

Closing the first act is XYV, a dystopian science fiction drama, which explores themes of gender, power, and the consequences of our actions. Performed by Elaine McNicol and Emily Dowson, with terrific sound design from Andrew Glassford, this bold, daring piece attempts to pack a great deal into its short running time.

First up following the interval is To Have and to Hold, a beautifully written, directed and performed piece focusing on the relationship between Ange (Joanne Heywood) and Barry (Shaun Hennessy), a pair of championship winning ballroom dancers stopped from doing the thing they love by an oh so familiar enemy. Containing some great gags and more laugh-out-loud one-liners, this is the perfect way to start act two.

The penultimate offering is, It’s a Pea Picking Privilege, a bitter sweet slice of social realism, as Aggie (Sophie Ellicott) and her daughter, Alice (Carla Rowe) discuss identity, and life’s struggles in a not-too-distant past. With a script filled with humour and pathos, it certainly leaves you wanting to learn more about this fractured mother and daughter unit.

The show closes with Signs, a look at loss, grief and forgiveness. Spiritualist Eileen (Wendy Albiston) works with sisters Amanda (Francesca White) and Jess ( Liz Simmonds) as they both deal with their sister’s illness in very different ways. Packed with emotion and a sprinkling of humour, this dark comedy seems the fitting finale to bring the production to a close.

Vignettes will have something for everyone, containing a tale or two that we can all relate to and a timely reminder that whilst live entertainment has been decimated throughout this pandemic, there are still stories to be told, with talented creative’s ready to tell them by whatever means they can.  

Vignettes is on at Hope Mill Theatre till 3rd July

Tickets available from: https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/vignettes