lion cast

Picture: Mark Senior   

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

Birmingham Rep


Wow! That’s about all you need to say about this fabulous production, just wow. The invention, creativity and sheer brilliance needed to transform C S Lewis’s Narnia novel into this mesmerising stage production is just breathtaking.

I first saw it when the wardrobe was opening on to the stage at The Alexandra Theatre back in 2022 and it blew me and my grandson away then, so we were both intrigued to see how it had developed as it transferred to the larger stage of the Rep.

Quite beautifully is the answer. In the 18 months away from Birmingham the production has evolved and matured. It is more scary for little ones in parts while battle scenes are less crowded – not that that detracts or diminishes, these are merely among the tweaks to an already spellbinding production.

It is a gripping family show, a real theatrical treat for the festive period. The age guidance is six, incidentally, but parts can be frightening, so knowing your child is perhaps a better guide than age.

The story is simple. The Pevensie children are evacuated to Scotland at the start of the Second World War. They are billeted in the home of the wise Professor, played by David Birrell, who, you suspect knows far more than he divulges, after all he was a child, exploring the ancient house once himself. He lives there with a couple of maids, a housekeeper and, of course, his cat , Schrödinger, operated by puppeteer Jonathan Charles. Schrödinger, obviously being a nod to quantum superposition  which is . . . let’s just say he has a cat.


Kudzai Mangombe as Lucy and Jez Unwin as Mr Tumnus

There is Peter, the sensible one, played by Daniel Apea, Susan, the eldest and even more sensible one, played by Liyah Summers, Lucy, the youngest and most adventurous, played by Kudzai Mangombe – she is the one who first discovers Narnia - and finally Edmund, played with remarkable surliness by Jerome Scott.

It is a fine performance by the quartet who really do act like a family with Scott excelling as Edmund, creating a character even people who have never seen the show would dislike.

We have Jez Unwin as Mr Tumnus, the faun and first person . . . creature? Lucy meets when she passes through the wardrobe the first time. He is a trouble creature, a paid informant who cannot bring himself to inform.

Then there is Cath Whitefield who gives evil a look of dangerous beauty as The White Witch, the self-proclaimed Queen of Narnia, imposing endless winter on the land.

Mind you she gets in practice as a sort of strict disciplinarian as Mrs Macready, the Professor’s humourless housekeeper – not that she is alone in doubling up roles, only Aslan, the Beavers, who are yet to come, and the Pevensie children get away with only having one part to learn.

The Chronicles of Narnia are all about the endless battles between good and evil though, so against Whitefield’s evil we have Aslan, king of all the beasts, and the chief good guy, played by Oliver Hoare.

It is a strange trick of the human mind that Hoare is a bloke with beard and flowing locks, in a long fur coat and Aslan is a huge three-man operated puppet, yet we see them both as the same thing, man and beast combine to become Aslan.

The battle between witch and lion starts as a legal thing, without going into too much detail, but the queen has claim on the life of the traitor Edmund under the ancient law, and a deal is struck which sees Aslan sacrificed, invoking another ancient law, and Aslan’s older, more powerful law, steeped in ancient magic, triumphs, which sets in motion the fight to the death between the good and the bad, who also have the ugly on their side, the Queen’s guards, decked in black in their Nazi style helmets.


Michael Larcombe, left, as Aslan Puppeteer and Oliver Hoare as Aslan.

It had all been very dramatic, distressing even, but evil can never be allowing to win, so let battle commence, and you don’t need a spoiler alert to guess who comes out on top

Along the way we meet Mr and Mrs Beaver, leaders of the animal rebellion, delightful performances from Samuel Morgan-Grahame and Ruby Ablett and then there is the baddies’ baddy, the chief of the Queen’s guard of wolves and creatures that go bump in the night, Maugrim, played by Shane Antony Whitely.

Maugrim has these extended arms for a loping gait and a gas mask face and was a really nasty piece of work, quite scary. Mind you, once his shift finished, come the curtain call and old Shane seemed a really, friendly, cheery cove. Funny what long arms and a gas mask can do to you.

The music from Benji Bower and Barnaby Race was both catchy and atmospheric, and played on stage quite beautifully by the cast while the set is dramatic and deceptively simple from Tom Paris, who also created the stunning costumes. The stagecraft on display is a masterclass for any aspiring directors and technical wizards with well balanced sound (Tom Marshall) and telling lighting (Jack Knowles) adding to the drama.

We had magic and illusions (Chris Fisher), puppets designed by Max Humphries and, cleverly handling a 20 strong cast, choreography by Shannell Tali Fergus. There was even a smoke puffing, suitcase carriage, night express train.

They all combine for a magical piece of theatre that carries you along in a whirl of music and wonderful storytelling from a fine cast who never put a foot, paw, or hoof wrong. You will never look at a wardrobe in the same way again.

Directed by Michael Fentiman, based on the original Leeds Playhouse production by Sally Cookson, the wardrobe will be open for business to 28-01-24.

Roger Clarke


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