Ben Ogden as Edmund, Molly Summers as Lucy emerging from the fabled wardrobe to greet Harriet Caddick as Susan and Adam Pritchard as peter. Pictures: Pamela Raith Photography

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Lichfield Garrick


C S Lewis’s fantasy world is not the easiest to stage, after all where do you find wolves, beavers, centaurs, lions and the like with acting experience and has anyone actually come across that half-human, half-goat creature, a faun?

And then there is the problem of portraying both the world we live in and, at the back of the wardrobe, behind the coats and old tennis rackets, the fantasy world of Narnia, ruled by a wicked witch, a place where it is always winter.

But Lichfield Garrick have managed it in some style with a splendid community production with a cast of more than 60 bringing the opening of Lewis’s seven book strong Chronicles of Narnia to life.

Director Jonny McClean, the Garrick’s Community and Education Manager, has gone down the simple route that less can often be more when it comes to fantasy, after all the best special effects in the world are out there in the audience, in the imaginations of children.

Thus Mr Tumnus, the faun, and first Narnian we meet, is Ashley Laight in striped socks, shorts and tank top with what appears to be a flying helmet with horns. Simple, and it works, helped by a fine performance by Laight who, incidentally, has admirably clear enunciation.

fun nd Lucy

Ashley Laight as Mr Tumnus in his home serving tea to Lucy

The same with Mr and Mrs Beaver, a lovely double act from Ivor Williams and Denise Baker. Dressed in what appeared to be fishing waders with bright yellow Sou’wester hats, they become every inch. beavers in the minds of children.

Lewis never allowed his books to be filmed or made into TV programmes, declaring some books were for the ear only and his humanised mythical creatures would appear hideous or ridiculous off the printed page.

The three films, three so far, avoided that with clever CGI, a facility not available in Lewis’s time (he died in 1963), while the Garrick have avoided it by simplicity, concentrating on telling the story and allowing children’s imagination to carry the lightly costumed characters along.

The quartet of Pevensie children are led by Adam Pritchard who gives us a somewhat humourless, serious Peter, the eldest, while eldest sister Susan, played by Harriet Caddick, is always cheerful and smiling, the motherly one to younger siblings Edmund and Lucy.

Edmund is a somewhat dour, disloyal and weak character – one box of Turkish delight and he is anybody’s – in the hands of Ben Ogden, while Lucy, played by Molly Summers, is the first to discover Narnia, and becomes almost the conscience of the family, persuading them to risk everything to save her friend MrTumnus and, eventually, Narnia.. Four different characters well defined.


 Ivor Williams and Denise Baker as Mr and Mrs Beaver

Ellicia Smith revels in her role as Jadis, The White Witch, self-proclaimed Queen of Narnia, who keeps everything in a state of constant mid-winter - with no Christmas - and turns opponents  which includes people she doesn’t like, who talk back to her, look at her the wrong way . . . the list is endless . . . into stone statues.

Her Christmas decree looks a bit dodgy when Father Christmas appears in the shape of avuncular Ken Taylor, with practical gifts for the Beavers and gifts governing the fate of Narnia for the children. Perhaps rumours of the return of the real ruler, Aslam have brought him out of exile . . . and started the spring thaw to the fury of the White Witch.

And fury is second nature to the old Queen with Ellicia deliciously evil with a wand as crooked as her reign aided by her nasty, bearded dwarf, brandishing a whip, Grumpskin, played by Eric Hastilow.

Her enforcer is Libby Buick as Maugrim, the wolf head of the secret police, with the sort of attitude that makes no friends. She gets her comeuppance at the hands of Peter, who is given the sage advice of always cleaning your sword when you have done in a head of secret police in wolf’s clothing, advice from Aslam, who is the real king and ruler of Narnia.


Ellicia Smith spreading misery as she passes by as epitome of evil, The White Witch

It is a clever touch to have Nick Baker playing both Aslan and Professor Kirk, the owner of the house where the Pevensie evacuees arrive and where the magical wardrobe resides.

In the book the professor is a minor character who defends Lucy when she is accused of telling tall tales when she claims to have been to Narnia. Here the two are connected – something which will perhaps only be noticed later when people look through the programme, giving a delayed addition to the production, for in truth you would be hard pressed to spot Baker was both the mild mannered, bookish academic and the roaring, powerful Lion.

He manages to separate the roles so completely that it is only in the programme that it is one and not two actors.

While the prof is a kindly soul, his housekeeper Mrs Macready, played sternly by Nicola Peace, is a real harridan. It is hard to work out whether it children or merely guests she dislikes. Whichever it is, her feelings cannot be mistaken!


Nick Baker as Aslan roars out his call to arms

For lovers of C S Lewis’s Narnia this RSC commissioned adaptation by poet Adrian Mitchell is true to the story, condensing it to play length, with music by Shaun Davey producing some atmospheric songs with an offstage five-piece band under musical director Dan Tomkinson.

Simplicity extends to the setting from Connie Watson, who also designed the costumes. A rear platform with staircases at either side dominates the stage, and give a sense of distance for the necessary journeys, with the wardrobe and the Beaver’s house set in the centre under the platform.

The staircases revolve to become on the left, the queen’s sleigh and the thrones of Cair Paravel, the mystical castle of the rulers of Narnia, and on the right, underneath the steps, Mr Tumnus’s home and the professor’s study.

With minimal scenery Anna Reddyhoff’s lighting is needed to create moods and drama, with the novelty of LED lighting on the edge of the risers on audience seating. And adding to the effects there are snowstorms on stage and descending on the audience – and with the current heatwave would that they could have been real!

It is a simple staging, full of charm and placing storytelling above special effects and lavish costumes, not surprising when you consider the budget for professional touring productions with effects runs into double digit millions. It is a delightful production which manages to involve the audience carrying them along to the adventure’s end.

But perhaps children provide the real test and my grandson, at eight already a seasoned theatregoer with 40 or so productions to his name, thanks to reviewer grandparents, has read all seven books and seen all three films . . . several times. He gave it his seal of approval and that is good for me. To 27-07-19

Roger Clarke


Press night saw an extra performance by Lichfield Integrated Performing Arts Group, The Upstagers, who gave a short except from The Magician's Nephew, which although the sixth book in the series (1955) is really a prequel, explaining, amongst other things, the origins of the wardrobe. 

The Upstagers  

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