Be Witched

C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (directed by Sally Cookson, Br/dge Theatre)

After last year’s slightly bizarre choice, the Bridge played it safe for the panto slot, with a classic children’s literary adaptation revived from the West Yorkshire Playhouse. They end up with a curious mix of Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz and The Lion King. My guess it was twenty years since I read the novel and I never warmed to Lewis, with or without Christian allegory. I’d forgotten the evacuation context, and rather like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang it feels as if it takes forever to get to fantasyland. I can see why they did a long train sequence to offer us some initial spectacle, but it seemed to last forever.

The main characters — the four children and the professor — are cast as black, not entirely blindly of course, entirely possible for the 1940s, but arguably less visible than it might be. Wil Johnson does double duty as professor and Aslan, and I can see why they choose to have him and the puppet lion on stage at the same time — too much potential for Oz the mighty — but it risks being clumsy.

Meanwhile Laura Elphinstone as the White Queen steals the show — it’s Tilda Swinton in the films and I can’t watch them as I’d be routing for her — and there is much comic mileage in the foxes and badges as World War Two resistance fighters.

I confess to a degree of being underwhelmed — although the small children around me were transfixed throughout.

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