First, a bit of advice: I’ve never read any of the seven books in The Chronicles of Narnia, written by the author/theologian C.S.Lewis. I knew a bit about the most famous of these novels – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – and I found it helped to read the program notes about the story and the artistic director’s message before the play started. This was useful because 9th Hour Theatre Company had decided to start the play with a frenetic pantomime which attempted to summarize the events leading up to the story of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but without reading the program it wouldn’t have made any sense to me at all. As it was, I’m not quite sure why this prequel was necessary. And with its clumsy choreography, it seemed a bit amateurish.
Fortunately, this was one of the few lapses from professionalism. The cast is large – 15 actors – and most of them delivered their lines well. Audibilty was rarely a problem. And there were some delicious physical bits. George Dutch and Julie Kevan (Mr. and Mrs. Beaver) had wonderful beaver-ish mannerisms. Kenny Hayes as timid Mr. Tumnus the Faun pranced about on tiptoe just as I imagine a real faun would. Rebecca Russell was mesmerizing as the evil Queen Jadis/White Witch, towering over everyone in her silver lame gown and icy crown, and flashing her 3-inch fingernails.
The four Pevensie children – Clara Silcoff (Susan), Ian McMullen (Peter), Jacob Segreto (Edmund) and Marisol Cavas (Lucy) – were particularly good, though I must single out Segreto for special praise. This is his third 9th Hour production, and in every one I’ve been struck by his remarkable acting ability. In this play, there were several scenes in which the White Witch caused Edmund to move involuntarily. It was magical!
Unfortunately, these were the only truly magical moments in the play, though the artistic director, Jonathan Harris, claimed in the production notes that they ‘wanted to depict the ‘Deep Magic’ and spirituality of Narnia.” There were quite a few small children in the opening night’s audience. The show is over 2 hours long. With so little magic on stage, I wonder how well the play held the children’s attention. I didn’t hear much audience reaction during the play – something that usually happens when children are fully engaged. And I only heard laughter once, when Susan told quarrelling Peter and Edmund to “stop acting like brothers!”.
The original music added to the play without being distracting. The sets were beautiful, especially the forest canopy. Some of the costumes were brilliant.
I particularly liked Harris’s use of the Richcraft Theatre’s long ramps in the audience area for some dramatic entrances and exits. I hope he’ll be able to recreate this when the company moves to Centrepointe on December 19 for the second half of the run.
The technical aspects were generally quite good. The original music added to the play without being distracting. The sets were beautiful, especially the forest canopy. Some of the costumes were brilliant. I loved Mr. and Mrs. Beavers’ outfits! Aslan looked quite leonine, and the White Witch’s costume was nothing short of stunning.
There were, however, several distracting technical problems. One was with the lighting. During scene changes, the lights were frequently focused on cast members who were moving bits of scenery rather than on the characters we were carrying the action, who were frequently in the dark. The other problem was with several of the recordings of Winston Churchill’s inspiring speeches to the British people. (C.S.Lewis’s novel is a parable about WW II.) It was often difficult to make out what this great orator was saying. Were these problems due to opening night glitches? I hope so.
Cast members are collecting donations after the show for OrKidstra, a local charity that helps kids from under-served areas develop skills through music.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is at the Richcraft Theatre in the Shenkman Centre until December 16. It then moves to the Meridian Theatre at Centrepointe December 19 to 23. The performance starts at 7pm and is approximately 140 minutes long, including a 15-minute intermission. Information and tickets at www.9th-hour.ca.