If a film version was made of Michael O’Brien’s adaptation of C. S. Lewis’ classic tale describing the origin of Narnia, it could be as instructive as it is satisfying to watch this production once with the sound switched off.
Of particular merit are the projections—designed by Cameron Davis—that fill many, many panels in the Festival Theatre with scenic wonder, inventive spray painting (like some recurring gags, once would have been enough) and a brilliant first look at Aslan, the lion. Kevin Lamotte’s lighting plot deftly reinforced all of the action. In the costume department, Jennifer Goodman’s animal heads and masks were most effective and ideally brought to believable life due to Claudio Vena’s ability to make the menagerie move like they had four feet instead of two—most notably Kyle Blair as Aslan. Curiously, the white wings that marvellously sprouted as horse, Strawberry (Matt Nethersole can neigh with the best of them), winged into flight had a wonderful span but nary a single flap.
Douglas Paraschuk’s utilitarian set design, which brought new meaning to the terms cardboard character and inventive blocking, kept the pace moving steadily forward—proof positive was the rapt attention from the largely student audience that were along for this so-called media opening. (The real opening night is set for 15 days later—another new twist as the artistic/administrative trust settles into their roles.)
However, once the sound is factored into the live performance (Claudio Vena at the helm), it is clear that more tweaking ought to be done with the levels as the music often overwhelmed the lines (likewise, the “other world” reverb to these ears).
The strong cast proved yet again how the company’s collective strength and depth continues to grow with young and old, newcomers and veterans alike. Travis Seetoo was just boyish enough playing Digory (yet where was the face dirt?) and readily matched by an appropriately wide-eyed performance from Vanessa Sears. As Uncle Andrew (a brandy loving, semi magician), Steven Sutcliffe had no qualms playing it far over the top, but judging from the peals of laughter from the younger set, was an instant crowd favourite. The most welcome return of Deborah Hay paid off in spades with a cackling delivery that made Jadis (White Witch) delectably evil and greedy.
As to the adaptation and direction (Tim Carroll’s Directors Notes aptly foreshadowing the result), the opening audience-fuelled Ode to Dreams sequence, rendered with general aplomb from an unexpected Greek chorus, more puzzled than set the table for the magic to come. Somewhat surprising were the twin sides of sexism coming from Digory on the one hand, only to be “balanced” by Jadis. Text such as “natty tweeds” flew over the youngest heads in the room and the squeaky door gag probably seemed funny in the blocking but failed to open the expected avalanche of yuks. Nonetheless, the apple tree—with completely human limbs and branches—was a visual knockout that will remain in memory for years to come.
As Carroll extolled in print, “If you haven’t read it, I really hope this show will inspire you to go and get hold of a copy.” Good advice indeed, then decide for yourselves if the two views are equally valid. JWR