The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe review: It sorely lacks a villain

The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe satisfies our craving for imagination and escapism in dark times, but is sorely lacking a villain

The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe

The Lowry, Salford                     Touring until May 7                         2hrs 5mins

Rating:

The Strange Undoing Of Prudencia Hart

Royal Exchange, Manchester             Until January 15             2hrs 30mins

Rating:

This revival of Sally Cookson’s stage version of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe may be a festive treat – but it tours until May and should have no problem entrancing audiences right into springtime.

Mounted by a large cast of actor-musicians, with inventive sets, costumes and puppetry, this is bankable, family-friendly fare.

From opening with strains of We’ll Meet Again to Narnia’s talking animals costumed in gas masks, the story’s wartime context is beefed up. It nods to our need for imagination and escapism in dark times.

There’s cosy comic business from the animals – although Aslan is suitably noble, performed as man and beast by a lion puppet and Chris Jared (above) in a shaggy coat

There’s cosy comic business from the animals – although Aslan is suitably noble, performed as man and beast by a lion puppet and Chris Jared (above) in a shaggy coat

There’s cosy comic business from the animals – although Aslan is suitably noble, performed as man and beast by a lion puppet and Chris Jared in a shaggy coat. Of the adults playing children, Karise Yansen stands out as the believably guileless Lucy.

The production, however, is sorely lacking a villain: Samantha Womack is a slinky White Witch but is unlikely to strike terror into even a toddler. Michael Fentiman’s direction can fail to ramp the tension at crucial moments.

Nonetheless, the show delivers on folksy charm: Benji Bower and Barnaby Race’s music provides an atmospheric, film-like underscoring and bursts sweetly into folk songs and dances.

Set on a snowy mid-winter’s night, David Greig and Wils Wilson’s wild, joyful, modern verse fable The Strange Undoing Of Prudencia Hart is a stirring seasonal offering.

Originally performed in pubs, the socially-distanced set-up at the Royal Exchange doesn’t do it any favours – yet a brilliant cast make it crackle into life.

Prudencia is an uptight academic studying Scottish Border ballads. She finds herself snowed in alongside a flirtatious rival, Colin Syme, at a pub where a folk session turns into karaoke. 

Utterly out of place among the singing, stripping and sambucas, Prudencia wanders into the cold night – only to be ensnared by the devil and taken to hell: a Kelso B&B with a view of an Asda car park.

The audacious second half skips across several millennia, as the devil and Prudencia fall in lust and love. Eventually, Prudencia learns the value of living life to the full and longs to return to it – even to bad karaoke.

Debbie Hannan’s production is funny, fleet-footed and powered by music, from folky fiddle to Kylie Minogue. Joanne Thomson makes a winning Prudencia – a believable prig and devil-seducer – while Paul Tinto is perfect as a charismatic Satan.

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