The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe

(Harvest Rain Theatre Company)


C.S. Lewis’s classic children’s tale gets a fresh airing at Harvest Rain’s Sydney Street theatre in a production that is in turns entrancing, funny, scary and touching.

Young director Tim O’Connor and designer Josh McIntosh have come up with an imaginative array of ideas to dramatise the familiar story. O’Connor does not disguise the allegorical dimensions of Lewis’s work. Some may think they are too obvious, with Leigh Walker as Aslan far less a lion in appearance than a picture-book Christ. “Daughters of Eve” Lucy and Susan seem to morph into the two Marys in their moving farewells and mourning over their dead saviour.

There is magic and delight in the various animal characters Jason Chatfield’s tea-drinking fawn, Grant Couchman and Emily Gilhome’s beaver couple. Particularly clever are the tree spirits and metallic figures who swirl and clunk in and out of the scenes, doubling as narrators and stagehands, adding an ethereal otherworldly presence to the frontline characters. The various good and bad Narnians perform well.

Sarah McCoy as the white witch is regal and threatening, if at times too shrill. The children are played by young, or youngish, adults. I’d have preferred to see actors closer to the characters’ ages in these parts, and Nick Backstrom as Edmund looks at first a little comical as a schoolboy in shorts, but all four (the others are Joanna Butler, Steve Koch and Penny Leutton) give a good representation of pampered English children packed off to the country for safekeeping during the War years. All four keep up their vowels pretty well, if not often the intonations of English English. (Why not just cast them as Aussie kids: it would do no great damage to the story. After all, most of the Narnia inhabitants are Australian-sounding.)

Bill Cooney’s music adds a mystical dimension, but attention needs to be given to the quality of the sound, which distorts at the needlessly high volumes. On the other hand, Noel Payne’s lighting design and its operation are of top quality. Sets are a mixture of tatty school of arts Christmas pantomime and excellent touches, especially the surrounding trees and the wheel-on stagelets. There are various effectively hideous creatures, including a most convincing wolf. And Jason King has done his usual top job with the fight scenes.

It’s a good outing for families and all who love Lewis, fantasy and good quality Christian allegory. Some of the scenes may give the littlest kids nightmares. Others may give older ones hope.

— John Henningham
(Performance seen: Fri 21st March 2003)