166 Drury Lane, London WC2B 5PW 020 3925 2998
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Ends 8th January 2023.
CONTAINS STROBE AND FLASHING LIGHTS, HAZE AND SMOKE. RECOMMENDED FOR AGES 6 AND OVER.
Four evacuees find that a wardrobe leads to another world where the lion really is king...
CS Lewis tale, adapted for the stage in a transfer from Leeds Playhouse, gets a second West End run following its success at the Bridge Theatre in 2019/20.
(seen at the afternoon performance on 11th August 2022)
Every consumer of Cadbury’s Milk Tray chocolates knows about that rectangular block. Temptingly large and coated in thick milk chocolate, yet often left until last. The unwary, greedy or slow-off-the-mark-for-the-best-choices take a bite... and find a pink jelly inside which they either spit out instantly or swallow with relish, noting to make a beeline for it next time. That is the Cadbury version of Turkish Delight. This show is pretty similar.
Appreciating the source material either as the original book (or later television and film versions) and comparing this stage adaptation is like weighing authentic Turkish Delight against the Birmingham version.
A true oddity, a great mixture of ideas ancient and modern compete for stage time and prominence in the script. The wartime opening, bracing “man up” lectures from Aslan and pep-talks by The Professor are in one direction. The “green” and “vegan” messages run in quite another.
The result is a piece which has no single underpinning concept to frame its world, leading to no cohesion or consensus in time and place. We are confronted by a flood of ideas; several scenes feeling inserted because someone wanted to try something in rehearsal then forgot to cut it during previews.
For the children around the monkey and (from what it could hear in the wider auditorium) the result was an audience alternately enthralled or bored witless and reaching for their phones and noisy snacks. At one point there are also some particularly dark skull puppets just to bury smaller heads in carers laps.
Undecided whether it is a actor / musician musical, drama with puppets, straight retelling or woke update, the Leeds Playhouse decide on a little of each. Piling their theatrical buffet selections on top of each other leaves a plateful of rather blurred flavours.
The songs are grim and barely memorable. Dance routines slow the action to glacial pace, particularly in the first half, so that the drama suffers from the punctuation.
The final battle is over before it starts - and sent several children into paroxysms of laughter at the lameness of the conflict. When the creative team trust the original – mostly in the second half – it flies. When they try and introduce nods to modernity they stand out like a lamppost in a magic forest.
Tom Paris comes up with a minimal yet still too fussy set, tents masking action for many off to the sides of the theatre. Toby “101 Dalmatians” Olie produces a lovely articulated house cat, but forgets to give Aslan a rear end, which is simply incongruous as he does get a tail. We also get a ‘Turkish Delight’ version of Bertie Bassett, which is simply inexplicable.
Adults play the four children. An accepted technique but rendered incongruous in this case by providing 1940s costumes yet having them deliver 2010s dialogue with its associated speech patterns.
The best of the acting is from Samantha Womak as a calculating White Queen with a retinue of useful and very vicious minions to do her bidding. Given that she had made a shock announcement about her health the day before, the monkey was in awe that she wished to continue in her role and wishes her the speediest recovery and very best outcome possible.
Johnson Willis as the kindly Professor also deserves mention, as does Oliver Grant as his cat, Schrodinger.
Director Michael Fentiman deploys his resources well enough to fill the awkward stage of the Gillian Lynne but fails to bring a sharp artistic focus to the overall piece.
For devoted fans of the original there will be things to recognise and probably a lot to like. The monkey never got through more than half of the original book - and admits that, even with low expectations, it has had considerably worse afternoons at the theatre than this one. In fact, it is almost tempted to flick open its old paperback again for a second try.
Still, at West End prices and with so many competing shows of high quality, this may be more suited to devotees than converts or maybe the casual visitor spotting a well-priced last minute ticket.
Not exactly a missed opportunity, but another creative team with the time and backing to develop an adaptation could be inspired to build further on some of the stronger moments here to produce a truly impressive and definitive adaptation of a much loved modern children’s classic.
Where do I begin? I think I have to start with what would normally be the ending. I’ve never seen anything like this show. It’s somewhere between a Folk Concept Album… and an Acid Trip!
Sticking faithfully to the original story, we learn how Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are evacuated during WWII to a remote Scottish mansion, owned by Professor Kirk. Lucy goes exploring, and makes an incredible discovery…
Look, we all know the story (if you don’t, how?), so I’ll dive right in. Once in Narnia, things take off. Lucy meets Tumnus the Faun, spoiled brat Edmund (who comes later) falls under the power of The White Witch and the battle to liberate Narnia from 100 years of Winter begins…
The show is fantastical. The set? Bare bones, but so much is done with clever lighting, props and an incredibly hard-working ensemble to create new scenes and worlds. The music? As I said earlier, very much what you’d find in a folk concept album (King of Elfland’s Daughter, anyone?), but it fits the world of Narnia perfectly and gets into your head. I love how the band are also acting, dancing and singing and a central part of the show (and loved seeing a number of performers from the beautiful ‘Once’ reunited on stage - big shout out to Christina Tedders (Mrs Beaver), whose character I adored.
Puppetry is very much back in demand in The West End at present. And this show is a great example of how it should be done. Aslan is spectacular, but there is more puppetry and so well done you accept them as real.
But a stripped-back production like this relies on the power of the performances. There isn’t a weak link, everyone plays their part (or multiple parts in the case of many of the cast), but there are a few standouts. Samantha Womack as The White Witch. Every time she appeared, she was magnetic. All eyes were drawn to her. She played the cold, aloof Witch to perfection. Chris Jared as Aslan. It’s a tricky role; you need to be powerful, yet not detract from the puppet who you are voicing while at the same time being the one who connects with the cast. The scenes with Witch and Lion are electric, the sparks just fly off.
And a massive shout out to Delainey Hayles. The character of Lucy takes on a vast amount of the emotional and empathic heavy lifting. And this young actress - making her professional theatre debut - takes it all on her shoulders with ease (there were moments you could just feel the audience reacting to her portrayal).
As I said, this is like nothing else in the West End right now. But it’s powerful, it’s dark (I’d be cautious about taking very young children along), it has moments of real humour, deep sadness, wonderful performances and, when you’re done, can I please take Schrodinger the Cat home with me? I began not knowing what to think. I ended by clapping so hard my hands tingled. Do yourself a favour and see this show. You’ll be lost in another world.
Seat Review: Circle, A12 and 13:
What a strange set of seats reside in the Gillian Lynne. 4th time now, sat in very different locations each time… and the seats couldn’t be more different! These seats are tall and upright. You wonder if they’re going to be uncomfortable, but truthfully they’re a nice place to sit. They’re comfortable (nary a fidget), but legroom is just about acceptable (to let someone past, it might be better to exit the row altogether)
Being in the front row (and with a steep rake), there was no guilt over leaning forward from time to time to see the right side of the stage (obscured by rail and lighting gantry). They are to the side, so the actors are rarely facing you, but you’re right on top of the action. These seats are marked as restricted view, but for the right price I’d happily sit here again.
Stalls J21 and 22. What a strange theatre is the Gillian Lynne. I've been there five times since it was refurbished, sitting in a very different areas... and each is such a different experience in terms of comfort and view. It's a good view from here (if off to the side), legroom is just about OK, but they're fidgit-inducing (not as bad as the agonisingly bad seats further forward). If you want to be close to the action go for this row (believe me, the front section is agony), but if you want show-long comfort with a decent view go further back in as central a location as possible - see my review of S54 and 55.”
The monkey advises checking performance times on your tickets and that performances are happening as scheduled, before travelling.
Wednesday to Friday at 7pm
Thursday and Saturday at 2pm and 7pm
Sunday at 1pm and 5.30pm
NO MONDAY AND TUESDAY PERFORMANCES.
Runs 2 hours 30 minutes approximately.
THERE ARE NO PERFORMANCES OF ANY PRODUCTION ON 25th DECEMBER 2022.
During the "Holiday Season" from 12th December 2022 until 1st January 2023, the above schedules will vary.
Charts showing scheduled performances during this period are available using the links below:
For Monday 12th December 2022 until Sunday 19th December 2022, click here.
For Monday 19th December 2022 until Sunday 25th December 2022, click here.
For Monday 26th December 2022 until Sunday 1st January 2023, click here.
Theatres use "dynamic pricing." Seat prices change according to demand for a particular performance. Prices below were compiled as booking originally opened. Current prices are advised at time of enquiry.
CLICK SEATING PLAN TO ENLARGE IF REQUIRED. USE "BACK" BUTTON TO RETURN.
FANTASTIC FRIDAYS: Visit www.lionwitchonstage.com/fantastic-fridays any time to register. You will get an email link for 12 noon each Friday. A number of £25 seats will be available for selected performances for the coming week, first come, first served. Maximum of 6 per customer.
Day Seats: App Todaytix are offering £20 "Rush tickets," located at venue discretion, for all performances. Released for the performance on that day, first-come, first-served. Download the App from Todaytix.
Some details may change, the monkey will update as available.