REVIEW: Young Ariel actors take fantasy fans to Narnia

Lucy Pevensie (Anna Record) meets Mr Tumnus (Tom Carey). Picture by Stephen Candy
Lucy Pevensie (Anna Record) meets Mr Tumnus (Tom Carey). Picture by Stephen Candy

I’ve always loved fantasy literature.

Looking back on my teenage years, my fondest memories involve reading pulpy tomes by writers like Raymond E. Feist and Terry Brooks, as well as more sophisticated novels by Robin Hobb and George R. R. Martin.

Aslan (Ben Rogers). Picture by Stephen Candy

Aslan (Ben Rogers). Picture by Stephen Candy

However, it was The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis that started me down this path and I can remember my mum reading the books to me when I was about five or six.

So I was delighted to learn that Ariel Company Theatre was performing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at Ifield Barn Theatre (March 11-13) and I booked my ticket for the Friday show.

It tells the story of the Pevensie children – Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy – who are sent to the countryside during the Blitz to live with an ageing professor. While playing in his house, they discover a portal in a wardrobe, which leads to the magical, snow-covered world of Narnia. The land, which is populated by talking animals, is ruled over by the evil White Witch and the kids are part of a prophecy to overthrow her.

It’s unusual to tell such a large story on a small stage but Ariel’s production works well within its limitations. Black and white background projections hint at the awesome scenery without actually having to show it, while a mix of strobe lighting effects and slow motion acting conveys the intense battle near the end.

The White Witch (Emily O'Shea). Picture by Stephen Candy

The White Witch (Emily O'Shea). Picture by Stephen Candy

The make-up and costumes are inventive too as the young actors are transformed into stylised representations of wolves, eagles, foxes and other creatures. Aslan, the benevolent Lion, is particularly well done, with a mesmerising performance by Ben Rogers.

As with all Ariel shows, the young actors here are very good. Tom Anning and Millie Farey make Peter and Susan believable, presenting their kindness and their attempts at maturity in a realistic way. Max Hutchings shows Edmund’s selfish nature, but also makes his character sympathetic by showing how afraid he is.

Meanwhile, Anna Record portrays Lucy (the youngest sibling) skilfully, showing the girl’s optimistic but naive nature.

Comic relief is provided by Oliver Hawker and Kirsty Sheath as Mr and Mrs Beaver, while Tom Carey is wonderful as the fawn Mr Tumnus.

The humour is definitely needed.

While The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a family-friendly tale, it’s not devoid of dark moments, which are mostly provided by Emily O’Shea as the White Witch.

She’s as icy as the land she rules over and, in one grim scene, she offers a good reason why this story still haunts our imaginations.

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