Theatre: Narnia: the expensive version

THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE RSC, STRATFORD

A LAND where it is "always winter but never Christmas": that sounds like a prospect most parents could cope with pretty well at this time of year. Better than the reverse, certainly. It's also the sorry state in which the country of Narnia is gripped in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, CS Lewis's children's classic, adapted now by Adrian Mitchell as the first family Christmas show that has been produced on Stratford's main stage in the last 30 years.

The RSC needs a big seasonal blockbuster - a reply to the National Theatre's inspired pairing of Alan Bennett and The Wind in the Willows. Peter Pan, the company's London hit in the early Eighties, has ironically become a goldmine for their rival, thanks to the defection to the South Bank of Trevor Nunn, its co-director and adapter.

You might have thought that The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe would provide the answer. Lewis's story continues to exert its magical spell, even when you're old enough to think that it's a slightly shabby trick to sneak religious notions into children's minds by reinventing Christ as a lovable, awesome lion. But from the opening scene here, it's evident that Adrian Noble's production possesses more money than imagination. It's mentioned at the start of the book that the four children have been sent to the old professor's country house as wartime evacuees. So we are treated to a spectacular and unnecessary sequence involving St Paul's, searchlights, and the drone of bombers, and then, that tired old standby for getting a round of applause, a miniature steam train puffing its way across the stage.

I was unable to take my children to the press night, a fact I regretted less and less as the evening wore on. For while the show is intermittently impressive, and occasionally funny, its charm and enchantments are largely ersatz and technical. Paradoxically, the production scores its greatest success with the trickiest problem: how to present Aslan, the great lion- redeemer. The black actor Patrice Naiambana has a superb nobility of bearing, and lusciously deep stentorian tones; with his figure-hugging gold velvet trousers, white eye make-up and orange dreadlock mane, he strikes a perfect balance between the strangely human and the otherworldly.

Unlike the Young Vic's traditionally splendid Christmas shows, which stimulate the imagination by giving it tantalising prompts, this production does all the work for you. The famous wardrobe duly rears up out of the stage, revolves and deposits the children in a Narnia like a snow globe, fringed with whitened sea fern. The most winning creatures are Geoffrey Freshwater's lovely Mr Beaver, who has clearly modelled himself on one of Dickens's comic heart-of-gold types, and Nicholas Khan's evil, fanged Maugrim. But, lumbered with distinctly lacklustre songs, a huge cast of fauns, dryads, reindeer, unicorns, tree spirits etc, fail to convince that this oddly unengaging occasion is a labour of love.

A version of this review appeared in some later editions of yesterday's paper

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate