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Review Round-up: Goold's Lion roars in Kensington Gardens

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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, directed by Rupert Goold and Michael Fentiman, opened at the Threesixty Theatre, a temporary venue in Kensington Gardens, on 30 May. Like Peter Pan, the previous Threesixty production in Kensington Gardens, this new show's design (by Tom Scutt) is based on extensive surround video. It runs until 9 September.

The adaptation of C S Lewis's classic story of the Pevensie children's adventures in Narnia stars Sally Dexter as the White Witch, Brian Protheroe as the Professor, Forbes Masson as Mr Tumnus and Paul Barnhill and Sophie Louise Dann as Mr and Mrs Beaver.

Michael Coveney

“There’s a gnarled and twisted darkness about the adventures on the other side of the wardrobe, where Sally Dexter’s tremendous White Witch – part jinn, part giantess, but also a cackling vamp – rules the roost in a frozen waste where it is always winter but never Christmas. It’s a very clever trick, but you do feel that the four children evacuated from wartime London are discovering a strange and unknown land, not the stuff of nursery legend or their own fairy tales. Another universe, in fact, with comforting reference points such as Brian Protheroe’s unemployed Santa Claus, the talking robin (manipulated at the end of a thin stick) and the false security of Turkish delight … Lucy’s siblings are not really characterised as they are in the book, but Carly Bawden’s Susan, Philip Labey’s Peter and Jonny Weldon’s more impetuous Edmund are lively and eager … Shades of War Horse, definitely, but Steve Tiplady’s puppetry and Georgina Lamb’s choreography contrive a most wonderful new friendly and unforgettable creature, who is 'voiced' in rich and velvety tones by David Suchet, no less. The flight of the children on his back is thrilling, as are the battles, the ring of fire and the surprise resurrection to complete the perfect story.”

Tom Wicker
Time Out

"Rupert Goold's adaptation touches briefly on the children's abandonment issues and the parallels between war-torn Britain and the icy tyranny of the White Witch's reign. But it is soon engulfed by a tide of high-wire acrobatics, dancing, animated projections and fairly forgettable songs … Striking design and some stunning special effects can't compensate for what is often a confusing tour of Lewis's carefully crafted world. If you don't know the plot, you might struggle to keep up. The younger actors are suitably plucky as the Pevensie children; Forbes Masson is a snivelling yet ultimately noble Mr Tumnus; and Paul Barnhill and Sophie-Louise Dann are fun as a squabbling Mr and Mrs Beaver. But the star of the show is the distinctly God-like Aslan. When Aslan turns up, so does the magic … Kids will be enthralled by the show's energy and flair. But as an even bigger kid who used to spend hours in his parents' wardrobe waiting for Narnia to appear behind the skirts and trousers, I missed the book's joyful sense of anticipation, wonder and hope.”

Michael Billington

“Theatres come in all shapes and sizes – and this tented arena, resembling a scaled-down O2 arena, is one of the biggest. But it demands spectacle – like the Peter Pan it housed in 2009. While it gets a fair measure of that in this new production by co-directors Rupert Goold and Michael Fentiman, it took a long while for C S Lewis's fable to exert its usual narrative grip. One problem in Tom Scutt's often ingenious design is the wardrobe itself. It rises and falls through a centre-stage trap, but it never made me feel that it contained a magical world the story's four children were mysteriously entering. And even Narnia itself is evoked as much through projections on to the surrounding overhead canopy as by what we see on stage … The venue prohibits subtle acting, but there are clearly defined performances from Sally Dexter, who lends the White Witch a strange Mae West breathiness when she talks of a castle full of Turkish Delight, from Forbes Masson as the fey faun Mr Tumnus, and from Brian Protheroe, doubling as an antique prof and a kindly Father Christmas. Adam Cork has provided an atmospheric score that would be even more effective if the lyrics were better projected. I've seen Lewis's fable take a greater hold in conventional spaces, but it's worth venturing into Kensington Gardens if you're a lover of beneficent lion kings.”

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

Rupert Goold’s adaptation, which he has directed jointly with Michael Fentiman, is a bold attempt to turn this inherently wintry allegory into summer "event theatre", a pageant that will draw audiences looking for a seasonal treat. Although it edges towards being a musical, it is essentially a play with songs – and the tone is somewhat uneven, with Adam Cork’s music for the most part unmemorable … The four young wartime evacuees from London who find the wondrous land of Narnia are performed by actors in their late teens or twenties. The best of them is Carly Bawden as the cautious Susan. Yet the venue, the weatherproof tent known as the Threesixty Theatre, lacks atmosphere. And although the production clearly aims to capture the interest of children while also appealing to parents, it strikes me as too scary and too long for anyone under seven. There are magic moments and the second half has notes of real darkness. The ending is breathtaking but elsewhere the technical virtuosity hampers the tale’s resonance.”

Charles Spencer
The Telegraph

“It has been adapted and co-directed by the usually dazzling Rupert Goold, but here he and his colleague Michael Fentiman seem to be working on autopilot and up to their ears in debt to other productions. The many animals in the story, ranging from beavers to wolves, seem like less inspired versions of the fabulously imaginative creatures in Julie Taymor’s thrilling stage production of <i>The Lion King</i>. Meanwhile the mechanics of the lion Aslan with their visible human operators, are a straight pinch of the splendid life-size puppets in the National Theatre’s far more gripping production of <i>War Horse</i>. Even the journeys through the wardrobe into Narnia are less magical than they should be since instead of going through the fur coats and coming out the other side, the characters bafflingly emerge from the top of it. The staging is undoubtedly slickly professional with its computer generated video projections and bland folksy world music by Adam Cork, but I found myself nodding my head in sage agreement when the disagreeable Edmund complained that he “couldn’t stand this song and this boring beaver” before sneaking off to score more Turkish delight from the White Witch … Many in the first night audience seemed to be having a better time than me but I’m beginning to worry that that the once dazzling Goold has lost his mojo.”


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