Once upon a time there was a very prolific writer and scholar, Irishman C.S. Lewis, who was so fond of his goddaughter that he decided to leave academia and such behind for a while and, instead, invent the world of Narnia and dedicated his work to her. Not only that, Mr. Lewis named one of the main characters Lucy—just like his goddaughter. She must have burst with honour and pride.
He got so caught up in the project that he wrote seven novels altogether, with the second in the series, The Chronicles of Narnia, being called The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The stories take place in the United Kingdom during the Second World War. Young Lucy and her three siblings (Peter, Susan and Edmund) are sent to a country estate in order to escape the bombs falling in London.
The books sure were popular: over 100,000,000 copies have been sold all over the world. It’s not too many parents and grandparents living today that can’t recall having read at least one of the books.
With so many people familiar with the titles of the books (what adults call “name recognition”), it wasn’t surprising that Adrian Mitchell—who called Hampstead Heath, North London home in his earliest days—thought, “Oh wow, if I can rework The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe into a theatre play, just think of how many people of all ages will want to buy tickets to relive their own memories or introduce their special young ones to the stories without having to read a word. And since it’s the adults who pay for the tickets, I’d better include special lines or moments to keep them interested and laughing even if the children miss some of the jokes.”
And sure enough, the stage version was a great success.
For many years now, the Stratford Festival has gone out of its way to include something for kids in the line-up. They even have a special name for these shows: Schulich Children’s Plays. There’s a man from St. Catharines who’s seen quite a few of these productions but who gets a little grumpy when the result is more for the older ones than for the children.
This year, director Tim Carroll was asked to bring Mr. Mitchell’s version to the Avon Theatre.
Anybody attending opening night must have had their eyes nearly pop out of their heads! All of Stratford’s design wizards put on their thinking caps like never before and came up with a lot of really neat visual effects. Especially impressive were the TV screens that made snow fall everywhere and gave a tour of Narnia—way better than video games. Alexis Milligan, the puppet guy, made the bigger of the animals—most of all Aslan the lion—come to magnificent life without any zoo keepers needed. It was huge fun to see so many birds dragging humans around in their claws all over the stage!
There were also a few songs added in from music man Shaun Davey. Some had good tunes and gave the players a chance to dance (especially the final scene which looked for a moment like A Chorus Line was in the wrong theatre), but the story seemed to go best when everybody (including the animals, just like Mr. Lewis wanted) just spoke (some of the singing lines were hard to understand).
It was also really cool how the trees were able to move not all that different from three nights ago in that Macbeth play.And just like All My Sons (but be careful, very young kids would be scared out of their wits if they saw Mr. Miller’s show), there was another case of “colour-blind” casting with that ever-so-evil Yanna McIntosh being the White Witch.
Anyway it’s getting late and time to rest, but one more important thing. There were a lot of times when the old guys couldn’t stop laughing (“butter hooves”) and the younger ones just looked puzzled or shrugged. More likely Mr. Mitchell or Mr. Carroll thought they’d be funny—but not everyone got it.
Oh never mind, most people seemed to like what they saw and heard, but a few were hoping to relive their first brush with Mr. Lewis more like the way he wrote it. JWR