The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe casts Narnia's magic across Surrey
PUBLISHED: 17:43 23 December 2014 | UPDATED: 09:19 24 December 2014
Think of a favourite children's book and there's every chance that CS Lewis' magical story of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is towards the top of the list. With a new stage production opening at Kingston's Rose Theatre this Christmas, Viv Micklefield falls under its spell all over again
It’s late autumn, and in a sparsely furnished rehearsal room at Kingston’s Rose Theatre, the pressure is on for those assembled to nail their demanding singing, dancing and acting routines. It may feel like a long way from the glare of the spotlights or the smell of greasepaint, but encouraged by director Ciaran McConville to “give it one hundred per cent and do it like you’re out there”, a group of young actors gets to work by running through their musical numbers.
And, as if by magic, the sound swells, moving seamlessly from a melodic, almost dream-like sequence to a thumping chant that strikes the listener to the very core.
Here at the Rose, excitement has been growing since rehearsals for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe started a month earlier. With over 300 hopefuls being invited to audition, 70 lucky ones have been chosen to perform in the chorus, which leads the storytelling throughout the entire show – the strenuous five-week run requiring three separate teams of 11 to 18-year-olds. They perform alongside professional actors, who play the familiar roles of Aslan, the majestic lion, Jadis, the wicked White Witch, and Mr Tumnus, the loveable faun, amongst others.
“This young group of actors is extremely bright and enthusiastic,” says Ciaran, who has previously worked on shows including Horrible Histories and Nineteen Eighty-Four. “They’ve worked incredibly hard at their stagecraft. And I’ve directed them in exactly the same way in which I do the older actors.”
By basing the show on Theresa Heskins’ fast-paced and contemporary adaptation of the CS Lewis classic, Ciaran is confident that family audiences, even those more accustomed to a diet of 3D films, will be swept up in the thrill of the adventure. At the same time though, as a life-long fan of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (he confesses to having devoured its spectacular world of mythical creatures and spellbinding action in a single sitting), he says that the heart of the story remains firmly intact.
“There are moments when you can almost hear a pin drop,” says Ciaran, “and there are moments when the whole auditorium comes alive.” It’s a device that makes for captivating storytelling. Careful not to give away too many spoilers, he continues: “At its centre, of course, is the relationship between the four Pevensie siblings – Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter – who find themselves temporarily orphaned by war. They’re on their own, and out of their depth. Faced with both terrifying and magical situations as they take on an epic battle between good and evil in their own right, what gets them through is the courage they find from their love for each other.”
As the ‘green’ team continues to go through its paces, it seems that meticulous preparation by a stellar behind-the-scenes team (who number well over 60) has sprinkled plenty of stardust into this show. Costumiers who apparently scoured the country for an authentic-looking lion’s tail, as befits the rightful ruler of Narnia, have ended up making their own under the watchful eye of ex-Northern Stage designer Neil Murray. And while the final set has been kept tantalisingly under wraps, Ciaran proudly reveals that their consultant illusionist is none other than the vice-president of The Magic Circle.
“We have a Shakespearian style stage at the Rose Theatre, and without any wings or a fly tower there’s nowhere to hide any special effects,” he adds. “What you see is what you see. That’s been one of my big challenges because it’s a story about a concealed world, a secret place. But if we pull it off, this will be the best magic that we’ve ever created here!”
And whether it’s the dramatic entrance of the White Witch’s sleigh, or the echo of distant hunting horns, sound supremo Leigh Davies, fresh from working on Matilda the Musical in London’s West End, is using an original score to draw audiences into the action. Its composer Eamonn O’Dwyer is no stranger to the Rose Theatre, having previously written the soundtrack for another of its festive hits, A Christmas Carol. “What I’ve tried to achieve this time is a sense of the seasons,” explains Eamonn. “But in creating a musical world for Narnia, it’s not our world. So to begin with, there are lots of ‘cold’ instruments from Scandinavia and Europe, and there will certainly be sounds that are slightly unusual to our ears.”
Having conjured-up The Chronicles of Narnia 60-odd years ago, perhaps it’s not too far-fetched to imagine that CS Lewis would approve of how today’s generation has embraced his allegorical masterpiece. Indeed, it’s a fitting celebration here in Surrey, given that the writer referred, on more than one occasion, to how much he enjoyed living as a teenager in leafy Great Bookham; the character of the Professor in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe reputedly having been based on his tutor during this time. And there’s another local connection too, with Farnham-based artist Pauline Baynes chosen as Lewis’ highly acclaimed illustrator.
As Ciaran McConville says: “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the quintessential English children’s book and this adaptation of it really embodies the essence of our area. From the wilds of the Surrey Hills to the familiarity of suburbia, populated by strong, proud communities, there’s no doubt that this Christmas Narnia is rooted at home.”
Soon, this breathtaking journey – from young Lucy’s incredulous discovery of the lamp post in the magical forest, hidden behind the dusty wardrobe, to her elder brother Peter’s impassioned fight against tyranny – will all be unfolding here on our doorstep. And perhaps, as Lucy observes in the book, “it will not go out my mind that if we pass this post and lantern, either we shall find strange adventures or else some great changes of our fortunes.” A much-loved classic brought to life once again in the Rose Theatre’s magical Christmas show.
Need to know:
The low-down: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis runs at The Rose Theatre, 24-26 High Street, Kingston KT1 1HL from Sunday November 30 to Sunday January 4.
Booking details: For all ticket prices and bookings, call 0208 174 0090 or see the website at rosetheatrekingston.org
Special offer: Get top price tickets for £19 each (usually £27). Simply quote
the code SURREY19 at time of booking.
Terms & conditions: Special offer is valid on performances from Sunday December 28 to Sunday January 4 only. Offer not valid retrospectively or in conjunction with any other offer. Tickets are subject to availability.
With grateful thanks to HarperCollins and the CS Lewis Company for kindly allowing us to reproduce the original illustrations from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by the Surrey artist Pauline Baynes
Meet the Pevensies...
During rehearsals for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, we caught up with some of the local teenagers taking centre stage in a land where it’s always winter but never Christmas…
Gaia Mondadori, 13 (Lucy)
A member of the Rose Youth Theatre, Gaia has taken the rehearsals in her stride, but working with professional actors is a new experience. “I’m looking forward to learning from them,” says Gaia, who lives in New Malden. “My character is younger than I am but she’s really fun to play because she’s brave and takes risks. She’s also quite cheeky.”
Will Davies, 15 (Edmund)
With his sights set on one day becoming a professional actor, Will, who lives in Thames Ditton, admits that sessions with top vocal coach Sarah Stephenson are proving challenging but rewarding for him. ”You have to do lots of tongue-twisters and need to keep practising,” he says. “So, there’s no spare time at all but it’s fun; I wouldn’t do it otherwise.”
Rosie Clark-Trew, 15 (Susan)
Still a relative newcomer to acting, Rosie, who’s studying for her GCSEs and comes from Hampton Hill, is fascinated how the character of Aslan is portrayed on stage. Talking about her own part, she says: “It’s really interesting to play the mother figure; what’s funny is that the four of us are starting to feel like an actual family.”
Sam Brown, 16 (Peter)
Sam, who lives in Teddington, was keen to audition for a Rose Theatre production. “I still can’t really believe that I got the part,” he says. “I’m excited about going on to the stage here. We all know this story so well and have watched the films; it’s going to be amazing to actually be in Narnia itself.”
On the trail...
Also taking place this winter, there will be a special outdoor story trail themed on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at RHS Garden Wisley near Woking. Devised by the Rose Theatre, on this special trail, intrepid adventurers will need to unlock Narnia’s secrets to break the White Witch’s spell, beginning by seeking out the glow of the lamp post. The trail opens from Saturday December 20 to Sunday January 4 (excluding Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve). For more information, call 0845 260 9000 or, alternatively, you can visit the RHS website at rhs.org.uk/gardens/wisley
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