queen and edmund

Samantha Womack's White Witch takes control of Shaka Kalokoh's Edmund to create betrayal.  Pictures: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

The Lion, the Witch & The Wardrobe

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham


You can only marvel at how anyone could come up with something as engrossing, fabulous and quite brilliant as this Leeds Playhouse production of C S Lewis’s classic. It is simply magnificent theatre.

And lauding it over all is The White Witch, self-proclaimed Queen of Narnia, wonderfully played by Samantha Womack, who is imperiously evil, riding around her snowbound kingdom on her crude sleigh.

Her soaring to the flies with a stage filling dress is a moment to marvel to bring Act 1 to a threatening end.

She gets to practice being unfriendly earlier on as Mrs Macready, housekeeper to the professor, with a list of things the Pevensie children couldn’t do . . . and none they could.

Incidentally, as a lesson for any aspiring actor her diction is superb, every word clear as a bell.

The opening scenes with the evacuees boarding trains is a hive of panic and bustle, beautifully controlled and the representation of the train itself is simple and oh so effective.

train LWW

The clever representation of the train

This is when we meet the Pevensie quartet, Peter, the sensible one, played by Ammar Duffus, Edmund, the rather spiteful one whose hobby seems to be moaning, played by Shaka Kalokoh, Susan, the motherly one, played by Robyn Sinclair and Lucy, the inquisitive one, played by Karise Yansen.

The four play their parts well as the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.

Jez Unwin is the first of the Narnians we encounter, the faun, Mr Tumnus, his help for Lucy is his downfall as he falls foul of the Queen. 

Sam Buttery, Birmingham born, is a fine Mr Beaver, matched by Christina Tedders’ Mrs Beaver as the organisers of the animal resistance while leading the battle of good against evil is Aslan, the real Lion King played with a regal bearing by Chris Jared.

Aslan is a strange combination of human and stylised puppet -it would have been nice if the puppet’s mouth had opened though – but, despite on paper, or rather on stage, being two separate characters, it works. In your mind they become one.

children LWW

Shaka Kalokoh(Edmund) Ammar Duffus (Peter,) Karise Yansen (Lucy) Robyn Sinclair (Susan)

But that goes for much of this wonderful production, the effects are simple, but create magic on stage as imagination takes over. Children don’t need banks of computers and electronic wizardry to be entertained, they need a good story, well told and a chance to believe, to let their imaginations get to work.

There are some lovely touches, such as the giant lamppost emerging from the piano which travels miles around the stage during the performance from its opening line playing WWII standards to the joyous finale.

The transition from wardrobe to Narnia is cleverly carried out and we know we have arrived as snow gently falls endlessly in Narnia with characters in white robes, and gossamer fine white drapes helping to creat the winter scene.

queen stage

Samantha Womack's queen rises above her kingdom

Scene changes are an illusion in themselves, a blanket of snow emerges from the sky and lifts away to reveal Mr Tumnus’ house, or the Beavers’ lodge. A huge circle on the rear wall opens a centre ring which gives us a tunnel, a portal to our world perhaps, where we see silhouettes, actors and a haunting skeletal electric cello being played. More simple sensation.

There is a darkness to the tale with the queen’s guards in Nazi helmets and the wolf a deformed creature with a licence to kill, but there are also moments of humour, even among the evil guards.

There is a huge ensemble cast, who also double up as on-stage orchestra and chorus, playing first a wartime population, heralded by We’ll meet again, then reappearing later as the animals of Narnia, snow drifts and guards. 

The stagecraft throughout is first class from the set and costume design (Rae Smith then Tom Paris) to the lighting (Jack Knowles) making full use of the rings at the rear of the stage but also giving us floating orbs of light and even dancing Turkish delight.

aslan LWW

Chris Jared as Aslan

Barnaby Race’s music adds to the feel of the production with songs which seem to owe their heritage to folk, which is perhaps the right genre to tell of a sad land which has suffered winter for a hundred years . . . with no Christmas.

That is until Father Christmas, played by Johnson Willis, arrives with gifts for everyone, the most significant being the weapons to defeat evil given to the Pevensie children. Willis is also Prof Kirk, owner of the house to which the Pevensie children are evacuated.

I cannot recommend this show highly enough. It has everything, wonderful acting, a set which comes alive, engaging music, cracking pace, superb storytelling with the darkness punctuated by lighter flashes of humour, all around a battle between good and evil, perhaps made more poignant in these troubled times.

But let the last word be from my grandson, aged 10, who is a seasoned theatre goer these days, with half century of productions behind him, and his considered opinion was brilliant, fantastic and outstanding! And I can’t argue with that.

The original production was by Sally Cookson and this touring production is directed by Michael Fentiman and the wardrobe doors will be open until 12-03-22.

Roger Clarke


Unfortunately illness has hit the production and the Alexandra has announced that the roles of The White Witch and Mrs. Macready will be played by Rachel Dawson, and the roles of Professor Kirk and Father Christmas will be played by Matthew James Hinchliffe.

Sam Womack will not appear in any performances at The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham for the remainder of the week.  

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