The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

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The Independent Culture

Imagine an enchanted world where it's "always winter and never Christmas", where the goodies have been turned to stone and where the White Witch rules over her evil regime with a rod of ice. Perfect festive entertainment in theory, the best known of C S Lewis's Narnia Chronicles, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe does come across as awfully old-fashioned these days.

Imagine an enchanted world where it's "always winter and never Christmas", where the goodies have been turned to stone and where the White Witch rules over her evil regime with a rod of ice. Perfect festive entertainment in theory, the best known of C S Lewis's Narnia Chronicles, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe does come across as awfully old-fashioned these days.

Perhaps that is inevitable, given its wartime setting involving four brothers and sisters evacuated to Professor Kirk's rambling house, the way it drives home its Christian symbolism, and its reliance on a patchwork of moral threads. Under their crusading banners the "sons of Adam" are knighted for their bravery and all four are eventually crowned kings and queens, given absolute power to reign over Narnia. So much for equality and republicanism.

Few nowadays denounce their treacherous sibling as "You poisonous little viper" or call "pax" - and the definition of a faun, a naiad and a dryad surely doesn't spring immediately to the minds of many of today's children. But for the Leeds audience - many of whom are adults reliving a childhood adventure - it doesn't seem to matter if the language jars to the extent of feeling painfully stilted at times.

In Ian Brown's magical production Ruari Murchison's swish pair of white mobile staircases plays a pivotal role in nearly all the scenes. The stage action is supplemented by overhead video-imaging, so that the four Pevensie children escape war-torn London by whooshing train, transported from the threat of the Blitz to the strangeness of an unknown country house. There, after the slightly tedious setting up of the story, we slip into a fantastic winter wonderland where robins and owls and magnificent alpine scenery are effortlessly conjured up. The moth-ball scented furs in the old wardrobe are replaced by a gleaming forest of gigantic white coats on the Narnia side of the border, in turn replaced by grey ones hanging like grubby shrouds in the White Witch's court.

Adrian Mitchell's adaptation keeps the audience quietly spellbound and after the cruel death of the regal Aslan (an irresistible shaggy-maned Michael Skyers) there was a collective sigh of relief at his "resurrection". Russell Dixon makes a delightfully whiskery Professor while Ellen O'Grady is one wicked woman, stalking the stage as a Cruella De Vil-styled White Witch. The adults playing the children are all convincing, while the animals adopt appropriate mannerisms and movements. Shaun Davey's music, well played though it is, is not inspiring however. It holds up the action rather than being integrated into it or moving it on.

But this production works in that not only does it make you long for a piece of Turkish Delight - an interval sales opportunity surely missed? - but it makes you look twice at the lamppost (the marker between our human world and Narnia) outside West Yorkshire Playhouse, especially when a few flakes of snow begin to fall.

To 5 February (0113-213 7700)

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