t feels terrible to dump on Michael Fentiman’s staging of CS Lewis’s beloved Narnia fantasy, nevertheless it’s ponderously sluggish and woefully quick on magic. Samantha Womack is an icy, one-note witch whereas the large puppet of Aslan the lion includes solely a head, musclebound entrance legs, and a jinking tail. It appears like a roadrunner on ‘roids. The third-billed wardrobe, nonetheless, is solidly spectacular.
This wintry story, with its unsubtle Christian subtext and a visitor look by Santa Claus, feels wildly misplaced in midsummer, every week after the UK nearly caught fireplace. And the low-key charms of Fentiman’s manufacturing, with its folksy songs and winsome steampunk animals, evaporate in a 1,024-seat West Finish theatre.
It’s not notably the fault of the director or his forged and inventive crew, who’re working from an authentic adaptation by Sally Cookson. This can be a modest touring present that’s been dragooned into city as a family-friendly vacation stopgap. It’s right here to maintain the just lately – and expensively – refurbished Gillian Lynne Theatre heat after the brutal early closure of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella, and earlier than the arrival in January of the Nationwide Theatre manufacturing of The Lehman Trilogy, trailing paths of glory from Broadway. However with out being an excessive amount of of a metropolitan ponce about it, we’re used to raised.
The manufacturing’s shortcomings allow us to take a contemporary squint at a cultural totem, nonetheless. Philip Pullman hates the “innate cultural conservatism” of the Narnia saga and wrote His Darkish Supplies partly as a rebuke. Undoubtedly, Lewis’s books stem from an innately sexist, racist and imperial mindset, and their enduring reputation has contributed to the post-Second World Battle imaginative and prescient of British exceptionalism.
Right here, no less than, the portrait of plucky evacuees assuming management of a international land is barely softened by casting black actors because the 4 Pevensie youngsters. They, Womack’s witch, and Chris Jared because the cult-leaderish human embodiment of Aslan, don’t show a lot in the way in which of character, nonetheless. All of them converse with an incantatory solemnity to emphasize that we’re in a dream world, albeit one the place critical issues like loss of life and resurrection occur.
Against this, the Narnia creatures created by the ensemble of actor-musicians are a melting pot of accents, costumes and cultural references. Santa’s reindeer put on Lederhosen and the witch’s wolf lieutenant Maugrim (Emmanuel Ogunjinmi) appears like he’s loped in from a fetish membership. However a lot of the mammals sport tweed, goggles and a stringed instrument.
There are a few half-hearted ‘disappearance’ illusions. The witch, two Pevensies, and a few different actors are briefly hoisted aloft on wires to fly aimlessly round earlier than being sheepishly returned to earth. I’d forgotten how late Aslan arrives within the story and the way ineffectual he’s, how the narrative depends on countless random revelation reasonably than coherence. The Narnia tales have been as a lot part of my childhood as Bernard Cribbins, whose loss of life was introduced yesterday: in the end, he stood the take a look at of time higher.
Gillian Lynne Theatre, till 8 Jan; purchase tickets right here