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Sunday, 19 June 2016

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe: What the Kids Said

Middle: Sara Farb as Lucy, Andre Morin as Edmund, Ruby Joy as Susan,
Gareth Potter as Peter, with members of the company. Photo by David Hou.
The Lion,The Witch and the Wardrobe, by CS Lewis; Adapted by Adrian Mitchell
Directed by Tim Carrol
Designed by Douglas Paraschuk (set), Dana Osborne (costumes), Kevin Fraser (lighting), Todd Charlton (sound), John Stead (fights), Brad Peterson (projections)
Featuring Sara Farb, Ruby Joy, Tom McCamus, Yanna MacIntosh, Andre Morin, Gareth Potter

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the latest Schulich Children’s Theatre series to hit Stratford’s stages. Marketed at families and elementary schools, it seems only fair to ask the kids themselves what they think of the show. I caught up with Katie (10), Nolan (6), Abigail (8) and Thomas (5-ish) at intermission to see how they were liking the show. None of the children polled had read the books nor seen the Narnia movies beforehand, and for most, it was their first trip to the Stratford Festival.

RG: So, what do you like about the show so far?

Katie-the-articulate: I liked the part where they think Lucy is lying – I like how they reacted to the truth. I’d see this again, and I’d come back to the theatre. I’d like to read the book now too.

Katie’s mom: We have the set…

Katie-the-suddenly-delighted: We do?!? (My librarian heart gives a little leap of joy as I move on to Nolan, who is sitting backwards in his seat.)

Sara Farb as Lucy. Photo by David Hou.
RG: Hi Nolan, um… are you liking the show?

Nolan: (sliding sideways off the booster seat) No, it’s too long.

RG: Oh dear… Are you looking forward to the second half at all?

Nolan: (slipping further onto the floor) After this we’re going home.

RG: What about the lion, Aslan? Are you looking forward to that?

Nolan: (pops back up, briefly) Yeah!

RG: Will you ever come back to the theatre, do you think?

Nolan: No. (perches upside down in seat)

RG: Oh... What about if there were swords and battles? Would you come back then? Because I think there might be swords coming up in the second part…

Nolan: (looking at me sideways) Yeah! (Goes back to acrobatic theatre-seat--sitting)
Tom McCamus and Colin Simmons as Aslan (hidden) and
Gareth Potter as Peter. Photo by David Hou
Moving onto siblings Abigail and Thomas.

RG: Are you enjoying the show?

Abigail-the-enthusiastic: Yes!

Thomas: (silence. Shyness has struck.)

RG: What about it do you like? Do you have a favourite character?

Abigail: Ummm…. The wolf.

RG: The wolf? The bad wolf? (Maugrim, played by Brad Hodder) Any particular reason why you like him?

Abigail: I like animals. He looks like a cat.

RG: Um…

Abigail’s Gramma*: That’s going to make the costume department feel good!

RG:  Ok…   And Thomas? What about you?

Thomas-the-shy: ….

Abigail: He likes cats too. (Much discussion about decorating with cat pictures follows)

RG: So are you looking forward to seeing Aslan the Lion in the second part?

Abigail: Yes! We’ve seen theatre before.

RG: Excellent! Can I catch up with you after the show for your final thoughts?

Abigail: Yes!

Thomas: ….

Andre Morin as Edmund, Yanna MacIntosh as the White Witch, with
members of the company. Photo by David Hou.
It is important to remember for families bringing small children to this show that it is quite long, can be very “talky”, and there is a lot of inaction between super-exciting bits. The adaptation by Adrian Mitchell contains some jokes that will hit the adult audience squarely in the funny-bone, but only after they’ve gone whizzing over the heads of the younger playgoers, and Aslan doesn’t appear until after intermission (although it is a very grand entrance, to be sure). There are two battle-scenes (with swords) but they are near the end of the play, so just be prepared to fight or accommodate the fidgets.  (Likewise, adults unaccompanied by children to this show should just accept it as part of the experience, and enjoy the acrobatic side-show, if present.)

The production is thoroughly magical, with a small musical score (by Shaun Davey) that will thrill the Celtic-blooded; the charming puppets, costumes and prop-costumes that must have had those departments working overtime (Maugrim really does look more canid than feline – in armour, no less); and the set provides a framing device to delight literature-lovers - books are everywhere, reminding the audience at every step that this is a story.   The words of the novel adorn snow-covered trees, the scene-scape projections, and even Aslan himself. The steps are made of books, the mansion’s columns are books, the thrones of kings and queens are made of books. It’s a librarian’s dream.

As for those actors inhabiting this enchanting land? The critic feels there wasn’t a lot of room to stretch as an actor in most of these parts; the fangirl feels like they were having a lot of fun (except perhaps for Yanna MacIntosh who the critic feels wasn’t comfortable embracing the sinister melodrama that is the White Witch). Both critic and fangirl generally prefer Tim Carrol’s Peter Pan from 2010 for sheer theatrical joy.  But I’m not sure either the critic or the fangirl get a say here, so after the show I caught up with Abigail and Thomas-the-shy for further impressions.
Gareth Potter as Peter and Brad Hodder as Maugrim, with members
of the company. Photo by David Hou.
RG: Hi Abigail and Thomas, how did you like the show overall?

Thomas-the-still-shy: ….

Abigail: I have a new favourite character!

RG: Really? Which one? (Fully expecting it to be Aslan, the very imposing lion)

Abigail-the-cat-enthusiast: The jaguar guy! Because he’s a CAT!

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (and all its cats) continue at the Avon Theatre until November 5th. Go with the family, suspend your disbelief, and just enjoy the spectacle.

*I apologize if this lovely lady was not Gramma; I completely forgot to ask for her name amidst the discussion of cats.

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