The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (Birmingham Repertory Theatre)
Adrian Mitchell's Christmas classic is directed by Tessa Walker
First produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1998, Adrian Mitchell's adaptation of the CS Lewis classic fills Birmingham Rep's cavernous main house for this year's festive season. And if you know the Rep's main house, you'll know it can take some filling.
But that doesn't necessarily mean it's any good, and before we go any further, let me get one thing off my chest: I didn't really like it. The adaptation is thin on characterisation, too heavily reliant on trickery and effects and lacking the depth of emotion and meaning that make Lewis's original novel so profoundly affecting. In addition, Shaun Davey's ponderous music and songs are too often intrusive and unhelpful, holding up and encumbering the action rather than enhancing it.
Two things must be readily admitted though: the performers are utterly committed to the show, and I appeared to be seriously in the minority.
The cast consists of both actors and puppeteers and the fluidity of their movements and seamless interactions is one of the most appealing things about the production. Aslan the lion, in particular, is an amazing creation courtesy of Jo Lakin and Mervyn Millar, beautifully executed by a trio of performers headed by Nuno Silva. Moving elegantly and speaking and singing with exactly the right tone of authority and gravitas, it's possible to believe that this is almost a real giant king of the beasts commanding the stage.
Thomas Aldridge and Sophia Nomvete are also entertainingly effective as Mr and Mrs Beaver, highlighting the greater success of the scenes in Narnia than those back in the ordinary world, and the second half proves altogether more engaging for much the same reasons. Indeed, director Tessa Walker could happily have shaved twenty minutes off the first act with no complaint from this audience member and probably no loss to the narrative either.
There's a wonderful seven-piece pit band in evidence too, although the dynamic range offered by such a luxury is not perhaps as extensive as it might be, with too much of the music sounding derivative, but the overall effect is suitably grandiose and impressive.
It's a show that aims for the spectacular and slightly misses, though that's no fault of the participants. And if the youngsters in the auditorium are anything to go by, the Rep does have a Christmas hit on its hands.
Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe runs at Birmingham Rep until 16 January 2016.