Aylesbury Waterside Theatre – until 20 November 2021

Reviewed by Susan Portman


Direct from London, this acclaimed production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe came to Aylesbury and starred Samantha Womack as the White Witch.

The story is well known as we join Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter as they wave goodbye to wartime Britain and say hello to a talking Faun, an unforgettable Lion and the coldest, cruelest White Witch after visiting Narnia after walking through ‘the wardrobe.’

Having loved this story as a child I was really looking forward to witnessing a stage production. Of course the story is essentially about four kids in wartime who go to stay with a professor. They step through a wardrobe and enter Narnia. This was the perfect analogy for me, as I stepped out of the chilly autumn evening, through the doors of the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre into another world – one of colour, sound and vision.

This then was my Narnia for the evening and as soon as the lights dimmed, the journey began. All eyes from the expectant crowd were focused on the stage. The theatre unsurprisingly contained a great many school children, excited and expectant, but then so were the adults.

The cast was led by Samantha Womack (She of Eastenders fame) and supported by several actors who were clearly revelling in the moment. I particularly enjoyed the performances of the young Lucy (Karise Yansen), who was I believe playing in her first major stage role/ Sam
Butley played the affable and bumbling Mr. Beaver with great skill, connecting with the audience and getting frequent reactions. Then, I should mention Johnson Willis who played Professor Kirk exceedingly well. What could have been a rather dry part was brought to life as he proffered his wisdom to cast and audience alike.

Robyn Sinclair, Shaka Kalokoh and Ammar Duffus played Lucy’s siblings with aplomb, and I felt that they weren’t just acting but enjoying their moments under the spotlights, as a team.

I do want to say a word about the puppeteers in this production, without giving too much away. They executed a clever concept in such a way as to forgot the people were there, and I focused only on the ‘puppets’ which is the best compliment I can give them

One might wonder how to make a white witch fly, how best to bring the mighty Aslan to life onstage and indeed how to set and change the scenes for the forty-five different sections of action. The set was splendid in conception, and the lighting, music, costumes and
choreography were first-class. Making those scene changes was efficient and clever – with musicians also playing acting parts on stage, doubling up so to speak to give maximum effect. Then there was the magic. Oh yes, Chris Fisher is a magician and illusionist and he has incorporated some stunning moments into this play. Well, Narnia really should have magic after all.

Such illusions, combined at times with the most stirring music (both uplifting and foreboding) raised the hairs on my neck. The imagery was captivating, and it really was as if I was in Narnia myself. I mean, how do you make someone disappear on stage literally in front of your eyes? It happened.

The quirky and clever dance routines made maximum use of the stage and I have to say that the costumes were phenomenal in their creation and presentation and very cleverly done. The lighting was imaginative and the use of silhouettes in key moments was a stroke of genius. The music, in tandem with the choreography, stirred the imagination, transporting the audience deeper into the wonder and unpredictability of Narnia. The story unfolded in a logical and seamless manner, taking us ‘through the book’ so to speak.

So how did the producer present the mighty Aslan on stage? Well I don’t want to spoil the show so I won’t be specific. Suffice to say that it was done in such a way that one will have a view either way – whether or not they like it. Personally I thought it was extremely clever, but you’ll need to see the show and make your own mind up. As for the white witch –
there was one moment just before the interval that made the audience gasp. It was so unexpected, and so brilliant in its conception that spontaneous applause broke out. Samantha Womack must love playing that role, I know I would!

I refuse to select a standout performer despite there being a headline name. I thought that this show was shared as a team, and that is to their credit. One is inclined to think ‘how can this story be reproduced on stage?’ The creative team and cast have managed to do this in such a way that you wonder if it could ever be bettered.

It exceeded my own expectations and took me back (as it undoubtedly did for many) to a time as kids when we truly believed in the power of magic, of snow queens, immense lions and faraway lands. Cair Paravel exists in our hearts, and the essence of the story, where despite adversity and setbacks, we can still find magic and wonder in the most
unexpected of places is a lesson for life, just as CS Lewis would surely wish it to be.