Opening Night for this fabulous production took place just a few days ago on the 29th May in Kensington Gardens, London. I actually went to see the very first preview performance on 8th May but have been embargoed on writing a review until after Press Night. Since I saw it, the radio station I work for has taken a couple of parties of listeners and journalists to see the show and the reactions from everyone was ultra-positive.
I must admit to having some trepidation at seeing one of my favourite childhood books turned into a theatre production. So much of the magic of C.S. Lewis’s classic children’s stories rely on the imagination. How exactly were they going to create the journey into the magical world of Narnia in a big circular tent with no curtains to hide away scene changes?
The answer is – very cleverly. Threesixty Theatre Productions wonderfully bring Narnia to life through a mix of acting, puppetry(a la ‘War Horse) and projector animation that turns the entire theatre around you into the magical world. The show happens in front of you, around you, above you and behind you.
Theatre productions start their run with a number of preview performances in front of live audiences while they iron out any problems in the production, iron out technical glitches and the Director and Producers get to see what works and what doesn’t and how the audience reacts and engages with the show. The viewing I saw was the very first in front of members of the public and it was ropey to say the least. Certain props malfunctioned, actors crossed over their lines with each other and the giant Lion Aslan (played by 3 puppeteers) had a technical breakdown when the pre-recorded voice over (played by actor David Suchet) stopped altogether at one point. The Producer halted the action, they reset the audio and we were off and running again. First time I’ve ever encountered something like that.
Despite these hitches, a good indicator for me as to how well the show would do once the glitches were are smoothed out was watching the reactions of the many kids who were in the audience. Bearing in mind the show was around 40 minutes late starting, was 2.5 hours long (with interval) on a school night…yet it held their attention all the way through.
Subsequent shows we have taken people to see have been near perfect and any performance now that we are after Opening Night and the critics have all seen it will be stunning. The reviews from the Critics has been superlative:
‘Rupert Goold’s adaptation is spectacular.’ Evening Standard
‘Dreamy, exciting and funny in equal measure.’ Tatler
**** ‘Had me as hooked as when I read the book aged 7.’ Times
‘Will have adults as well as children on the edge of their seats. Kids will be enthralled by the show’s energy and flair.’ Time Out
‘A magical setting: an elegant white circus tent in the lush green parkland next to Kensington Palace’ Independent
‘A magical space – it looks wonderful’ FT
“Aslan’s big moment was a show-stopper. A superb coup de theatre’” Guardian
‘A magnificent Aslan even gives War Horse a run for its money.’ Metro
‘What a magnificent Lion!’ Daily Mail
One of the key things I was looking out for in the production that would largely decide my verdict on it was how true it was to the plot and ethos of the book and the faith allegory intended by the author. It did not disappoint. A few variations and innovations but by and large true to the book and Narnia traditionalists need not fear.
On one of the performances we took our guests to, the show was filmed for promotional purposes and this is the trailer that Threesixty have made from the performance that night:
All in all, a brilliant production well acted. A deliciously evil White Witch, 4 perfectly selected Pevensie kids and a very cleaver working of Aslan including a scene which literally made the audience gasp wondering just how they did that.