The Lion, the Witch & The Wardrobe
Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford
Wednesday 17th April 2013
Following the graduation of CYGAMS' previous generation of leads last year, after their acclaimed production of Les Misérables - School Edition, this production of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe welcomes some fresh faces into the principal cast, some for their first time in a lead role. The increasingly popular decision to dual cast gives even more children the opportunity for a lead, grouped in this production into the Winter cast for Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evening, and the Summer cast for all other performances, including the Wednesday night I attended.
The ambitious set consists of a simple backcloth for the real-world scenes, complete with iconic wardrobe, all smoothly swept aside to reveal a multi-level snow covered Narnia behind. The few pieces of furniture for the homes of Mr Tumnus and the Beavers are well incorporated into the hollow staging, set swiftly by members of the cast. The simple snow coverings are quick and easy to remove when the winter spell begins to lift, and the multiple heights add some interest to the staging. With such a large chorus however, the scale of the set on the relatively small Cramphorn stage reduces the potential for depth and forces a fairly linear approach to the staging. That said, sections such as the battle towards the end are very well achieved, with the chorus taking the opportunity to act out the dramatic, slow motion fights with relish. Frequent use of the auditorium also helps not to crowd the stage, with entrances by the White Witch and her entourage being particularly effective. Costumes for the Pevensies are ideal, evoking the feel of the 1950s setting, and the Witch looks both fierce and glamorous in her flowing white dress and striking make-up. The one-piece animal suits are a bit twee, with perhaps a more personified approach - waistcoats, hats, etc - working much better as a fitting style for Narnia, as per the effect achieved with the Beavers.
Performances across the board are confident and lively, with the simple choreography being well handled by the whole cast and performed with charm and energy. The Summer cast of Pevensies include a confident Elliott Elder as eldest brother Peter, with a clear voice and commanding stage presence, flanked by the stunningly smooth vocals of a beautiful Charlotte Broad as Susan. Little sister Lucy was strongly acted by Emily Ford, who captured the spirit of the piece in a well pitched performance with a heart-melting smile throughout, and an exceptional Matthew Hedges was entirely compelling as wayward brother Edmund. Highlights among the rest of the cast included Eve French as the sinister White Witch, Samuel Wolstenholme as the timid but lovable Mr Tumnus, a charming partnership from Jayden Booroff and Rebecca Clarke as Mr & Mrs Beaver and an absolute star turn from the excellent Tom Tull as Lionhearted hero Aslan.
The Chronicles of Narnia are classics of children's literature, and the story itself will always charm. This version however is very mediocre, with underwhelming musical numbers and a frustrating adaptation of the plot that somewhat labours the early setup of the story but rushes the climactic battle and final conclusion. This is not the fault of the cast however, who are as charming and hard working as ever, performing with skill and commitment and achieving an entertaining result despite the questionable source material. An exciting prospect to look forward to next for CYGAMS with one of my favourite musicals, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, in the Civic this November.