Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - St Stephens, Hampstead

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe By C.S Lewis
Adaptor: Adrian Mitchell
Director: John Risebero & Ben Horslen
Reviewer: Becky Middleton

A church can be an ideal venue for gigs and plays, not just the weekly sermon. St Stephen’s, Hampstead, built in 1869, has lain derelict for the last twenty years, becoming a home to squatters and vandals who contributed to its dilapidation by stealing fittings, breaking windows and defacing the interior and exterior. But thanks to the Heritage Fund, English Heritage and several private investors, £4 million has been raised to restore the church to its former glory. And it was this sacred backdrop that played host to the lively and charming adaptation of the C. S. Lewis classic. Dry ice swirls around the black stage stretched from one side of the formerly derelict church to the other. The tinkling background music that greets audiences on their arrival is creepy and suitably atmospheric.

But it is a shame that this production was not big enough to fill the cavernous interior. As soon as the well-known story of the four Pevensie children, who get evacuated from London during the Second World War to a country mansion and discover Narnia through a magic wardrobe, gets underway, it seems that there is something missing. Looking up at the players on the raised-level stage in the vast interior of the venue, it is as if the hollows of the building dominate the production; the stage and actors dwarfed by its size.

A pleasing and enthusiastic Lucy, (Jayne Dickinson) projects her voice in textbook style; cute and lively. Peter, (Tom Radford) Edmund, (Dylan Kennedy) and Susan (Lorna Stuart) are faultless siblings each bringing their own magic to the land of Narnia. The nervous, enthusiastic dithering of the brilliant Mr Tumnus (Ross Hugill) is notable, as is Edmund’s youthful immaturity and eagerness to both antagonise his siblings and adhere to the white witch’s evil plans. Aslan, (Obioma Ugoala) emerges from backstage like a dreadlocked Joseph minus his Technicolor dreamcoat, bedecked in gold and ready to save the day.

But it is only in the group scenes such as the excellent execution of Aslan that the space comes alive and one can truly be enchanted by the well-known tale. The many voices chanting the demise of the great king reaches out and chills the audience.

The musical element is questionable. Well-sung, undoubtedly, but an outburst of song is surprising, and the rhyming of ‘turkish-delight’ with ‘it’s chewy and bright’ would have Lewis himself turning in his grave. Saying this, the eerie Macbeth witch-esque chanting of Aslan’s slaying is both haunting and suitably scary, one of the several occasions where the amateur musical style works.

The production runs until April 19 at St Stephen’s, Hampstead.
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