The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (Lyceum, Edinburgh)
Andrew Panton's production of CS Lewis's classic is filled with magic
It'd be easy to criticise this show: the songs are perfunctory, the internal narrative device doesn't always work, the climactic battle scene is thin yet also too long, and the animal costumes are a bit naff, especially Aslan, who looks like a Rastafarian.
And yet, it has bucketloads of that special ingredient that all Christmas shows need but that so few genuinely possess: magic. Some of it undoubtedly comes from the power of the story; the themes of exploration, bravery, sacrifice and redemption are both universal and specifically Christian; and some of it comes from the seasonal associations ("always winter and never Christmas"). But for audience members of a certain age, a huge source of the appeal will be the nostalgia. Which of us hasn't grown up knowing C. S. Lewis' wonderful fable?
In that sense, this production had me at ‘hello': it has the familiarity of being reintroduced to old friends. When Mr Beaver says that "Aslan is on the move", the most unexpected tingle shuddered up and down my spine, and when Father Christmas appeared on stage, I found myself welling up. I had to choke back the tears as the Stone Table split and Aslan rose again; and I defy anyone approaching middle-age not to have the same reaction.
But, for youngsters, it's also a marvellous way to meet these characters for the first time. It strikes the correct balance of having villains who are scary but safe, and always has you rooting valiantly for the goodies. But of course, all of this only works because the production allows it to. Theresa Hawkins' skilful adaptation tells the story with directness and clarity, fitting the whole thing into two hours in a move that makes this a show for families with young children. The actors are excellent, too, and you never question that the four Pevensies are children (even though they're not). Best of these is a brilliantly brattish Edmund from Cristian Ortega, who turns into the most likeable of them all because of the journey he has gone on. John Kielty and Gail Watson are great as the have-a-go Beavers, and Pauline Knowles' glacial witch has a great presence, although her occasionally feline manner doesn't really add much.
The top prize, however, goes to Becky Minto's designs, which are superb. The huge front wall depicting the Professor's house is full of moving doors that are suggestive of other worlds, and when Lucy first passes through the wardrobe into an icy forest where the snow gently falls, I found myself quivering with delight. Like I said; magical.
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe runs until 3 January