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Wonderful Reimagining Of ‘Wardrobe’ Classic
Phil Hopkins, Travel & Arts Correspondent
Carla Mendonça as the White Witch and John Leader as Edmund. Photography by Birgit Ralf Brinkhoff
There is an enchantment behind CS Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that instantly transports you to the simplistic world of the child and all things fantastical.

But, for all its wonderment, it is also a story with layers of hidden meanings, ideas and themes. However, that is for the academics because kids will love this beautifully imaginative Christmas offering at the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Quarry theatre.

It is the first time the main auditorium has been made ‘in-the-round’ and I was a little concerned bearing in mind that the Barbershop Chronicles, more ‘in-the-square’, was brilliant although so much dialogue was lost to the audience.

Cora Kirk as Lucy. Photography by Birgit Ralf Brinkhoff
But no concerns this time and director, Sally Cookson, pulled it off beautifully, not only ensuring that most of the cast wore body microphones, but carefully involving all ‘sides’ of the audience. It certainly wasn’t panto, but the White Witch did get booed, Aslan’s victory over his adversary was cheered and we all heralded the arrival of spring and the end of evil, by waving our green leaves as winter melted away; wonderful!

What I particularly enjoyed about this production was its reliance on imagination and acting, not gadgetry, digital backdrops or over use of unnecessary props.

The wonderful way Cookson brought the ‘wardrobe’s’ fur coats to life, filling each with an actor and making sure that they all moved in unison as Lucy brushed past them and stepped through its doors into the magical world of Narnia.

The cast of The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe. Photography by Birgit Ralf Brinkhoff
The audience were also the evacuees as well as the main protagonists, Lucy, Peter, Susan and Turkish Delight eating Edmund, and how amazing was that journey by steam train to the home of Professor Kirke; I won’t spoil the treat! Even a clog dancing Santa got in on the act, very Northern Broadsides!

This felt like a real ‘show’ but it is one that could quite easily have choked the cast, or its director, because of its magnitude and place in the public psyche. I am glad to say it didn’t.

The performers were great and the direction beautiful. Never did I feel that any side of the auditorium was disadvantaged, Cookson ensuring that as the kids crossed into their new, magical world, each leapt through the wardrobe from a different stage angle so that everyone witnessed this key moment.

Carla Mendonça as the White Witch and Iain Johnstone as Aslan. Photography by Birgit Ralf Brinkhoff
And to the actors. Some wonderful performances. Ira Mandela Siobhan as Maugrim the contorting talking wolf, ever faithful to Glenn Close lookalike, White Witch Carla Mendonca, eternally sinister behind her frosty facade.

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Cora Kirk as Lucy, John Leader as Edmund – the loveable wuss who sells out to the White Witch - Patricia Allison as Susan and Michael Jean-Marain were all believable as Narnia’s Royal heroes; all relatively new graduates from drama school, young enough, but mature enough, to carry off their roles in this challenging environment.

And listen out for the great sound effects, that ‘Terminator’ moment when good clashes with evil.

CS Lewis was a Christian apologist and you will find whatever you want to find in this strand of his The Chronicles of Narnia.

But when this Oxbridge Don first penned his magical story, the well-loved tale of four wartime evacuees who discover a magical kingdom through the back of a wardrobe, he may well have had a certain literary agenda.

However, he probably never thought that it would still be a best seller half a century later. But it is, and Sally Cookson and her team of wonderful actors have remained faithful to the original text.

This is a production that both you and the kids will love and will come as a wonderful addition to, or a refreshing change from, the plethora of pantos that are now running across the county. It will fire young imaginations.

The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Quarry Theatre
Until Saturday 27 January 2017. 7.00pm

Wonderful Reimagining Of ‘Wardrobe’ Classic, 7th December 2017, 8:34 AM