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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Westcliff, Palace Theatre)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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The stage adaptation by the late Adrian Mitchell with music by Shaun Davey of C S Lewis’ classic fantasy adventure The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was originally a RSC commission. It has been revived for the 2009-10 Christmas season in Westcliff by Bruce Kent with an excellent cast and designs by Charles Camm which nearly work for most of the time.

An innovation is the choice of young performers as the three junior members of the Pevensie family evacuated from London at the height of the Blitz to stay with Professor Kirk (Sebastian Abineri) in his country mansion. Emelye Moulton captured the hearts of even the youngest audience members as Lucy, the first of the siblings to pass through the wardrobe in the attic to emerge in the magical realm of Narnia. She acts convincingly and sings very well.

Her opposite is her young brother Edmund (James Burgess) – he’s the one who is trapped by Alice Fernbank’s ice queen of a White Witch and her supply of sugar-dusted Turkish Delight. Edmund is the one with most lessons to be learnt and Burgess makes him credible. Amy Burrows as big sister Susan and Christopher Perry as Peter, trying so hard to be head of the family while they’re away from parents and home, also give good performances.

The mythical creatures and animals who inhabit Narnia are all nicely contrasted. Ross Hugill is the friendly faun Mr Tumnus and also the lupine Maugrim, head of the Witch’s secret police. Mr and Mrs Beaver are another friendly couple; David Streames and Lorinda King do well by them.Morgan Roberts as the thoroughly unpleasant dwarf Grumpskin has a great time whip-cracking and being nasty to the white reindeer who pull the Witch’s sleigh. Mark Holden is an authoritative Aslan, an African lion with just the right degree of other-worldliness.

Other animals include a pair of pert red squirrels and two sinuous leopards. Stage furniture is kept to a minimum – the wardrobe, a street lamp, Tumnus’ cosy cave and the Beavers’ equally well-furnished home. First performance lacunae when shifting these on and off stage will probably be eliminated once the production becomes more established; infant school-age children notice such things even while taking ritualised and symbolic movements as perfectly natural and completely understandable.

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