The Chronicles of Narnia cycle continues at the Shaw Festival with the world première of C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy, imaginatively adapted for the stage by Anna Chatterton.
This mid-morning performance had many busloads of children and all manner of others with special needs in attendance. In a very large way, the success of director Christine Brubaker’s vision could be seen and felt by the obvious delight of this marvellously diverse crowd, revelling in an, er, “tail”, of a pair of talking horses carrying their young humans to a better life in Narnia. The only unwelcome sound interruption being a perfectly healthy adult behind me who had to unwrap a confection during a quiet moment.
The design team—most capably lead by Jennifer Goodman—has concocted a functional, efficient and expertly rendered solution to having audiences believe that those were talking animals—not humans pretending to have hooves, wings, tails or floppy ears; the sets, literally, flowed about with the greatest of ease, seamlessly interlinking when required; Siobhán Sleath’s lighting skills kept all eyes where they ought to be (the wood fire was a clever method of leaving the NOTL fire marshall with nary a worry in this fantastical world).
On the projection front, Cameron Davis was in top form—unforgettable were the starry heavens, magically shifting as the moon completed its journey cuing the sun to rise and parch the desert.
A Greek Chorus was also put to good use, moving the story forward as Deanna Choi’s purposely simple musical creations “snapped” their way into the aural mix—relying only on their ears, the overall ensemble was remarkably tight.
And three cheers to Alexis Milligan’s puppetry acumen—while the cat couldn’t talk, its skilful movement was most certainly purrfect.
As Shasta, Matt Nethersole lit up every scene he was in (almost all of them in the entire show). Kristi Frank and Jay Turvey readily galloped through their equine performances (Hwin, Bree respectively). Madelyn Kriese gave a wonderfully Joan-of-Arc representation of hot-headed Aravis, while Stewart McKensy as Corin had many convinced that he and Shasta were identical twins!
Overcoming what appears to be insurmountable odds in the quest of finding “Where do I fit in?”, is an important message. Having that so well-delivered in 2019—especially for those amongst us who are having more struggles with self than most are aware of—makes this production a must-see on many planes.
Miss it at your peril. JWR