Theatre review: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lyceum, Edinburgh

WHAT A strange and mysticalold beast is CS Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, first published in 1950.

Gorgeous down-to-earth leading performances keep self-righteous prissiness at bay. Picture: Contributed
Gorgeous down-to-earth leading performances keep self-righteous prissiness at bay. Picture: Contributed

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Lyceum, Edinburgh

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Rating: ****

Full of echoes of mighty myths and narratives – from the closing scenes of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale to the story of the crucifixion itself - it belongs to a postwar moment when British establishment culture was more in love with itself than at any time before or since, and more convinced of its special role as the defender of precious values, always under threat from the forces of darkness.

So when Lewis’s four child heroes – exiled to an old country house as evacuees from bombed-out London – discover the magical new land of Narnia in the back of an old wardrobe, they bring with them not only the perpetual mischief and simmering sibling rivalries to be found in any family, but also an inescapable sense of destiny. And soon, they are leading the fight for the ordinary creatures of Narnia against the all too well-drawn tyranny of the horrible White Witch, which has poor creatures bullied into the service of the regime, their homes searched and ransacked, and disobedience punished by instant petrification, or worse.

All of this is captured in Theresa Haskins’s fine adaptation and Andrew Panton’s beautiful production, which sets the story firmly in its historical context, features a powerful new recorded score by Claire Mackenzie – including a series of impressive songs beautifully sung – and fends off self-righteous prissiness with four gorgeous, down-to-earth leading performances from Claire-Marie Seddon and Charlotte Miranda Smith as Lucy and Susan, and James Rottger and Cristian Ortega as Peter and Edmund.

It is irritating – particularly given the de luxe quality of a supporting cast that includes Gail Watson, John Kielty, Lewis Howden, Ben Onwukwe and Ewan Donald, with Pauline Knowles as the White Witch – to see any Lyceum show so meticulously re-creating the old linguistic power-structure that reduces the sound of a Scottish voice to a cue for patronising laughter; and this is not a show for those in search of the kind of traditional Christmas fun that involves audience participation, rude jokes, and lusty singalongs.

What it is, though, is a fine and intriguing children’s fantasy adventure, beautifully told; and with Becky Minto’s magical design and Simon Wilkinson’s superb lighting often conspiring to take the breath away, there’s finally no resisting this exquisitely realised show, the last in what has been, for the Lyceum, a mighty 50th anniversary year.

Until 3 January.