Alumni production packed with energy

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October 21, 2014

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Adapted by Ron Reed from C.S Lewis’ Novel

Starring Mark Gordon and Kaitlin Williams

The Phoenix Theatre

Two added shows: Oct. 24 and 25 

Reviewed by Madeline McParland

Phoenix Theatre alumni Mark Gordon and Kaitlin Williams have been touring The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe for the past two years and now have brought it to the theatre that shaped their careers. The first book of the Narnia adventures is compressed into a famous two-hander play, but for me, C.S. Lewis’s hearty narrative is not well served by the play’s format.

The story is told in retrospect on behalf of brother and sister characters Peter and Lucy, who are revisiting the Wardrobe eight years after leaving home. The two actors recreate 10 different characters between them, including Mr Tumnus, Mr and Mrs. Beaver, the Queen and Aslan the lion. They did an impressive job navigating the play’s entire dialogue  — not an easy feat.

A simple set keeps the characters reminiscing in one room furnished by a chair, a lamp and a wardrobe, with a few fur coats for costume. Minimal props and lighting are used to indicate shifts in character or scenes. However, I found the constant switching back and forth between characters to be underwhelming. Peter and Lucy would talk — and with only a small accent adjustment and a white fur coat they’d become brother Edmund and the Queen.

The first half of the play had a steady pace — Narnia was nicely introduced and all the familiar references were there. Gordon’s portrayal of the Beavers was my favorite, as he hunched and waddled with vigour. I found Williams’s portrayal of the Queen to be her best character: she had the perfect cackle and looked just as irritated with Edmund as the rest of us felt.

Unfortunately, the second half of the play seemed rushed: all the best action was funneled into a whirlwind of shifting characters. Some of the best moments, the battle or the stone table, were undercut with overwhelming narration mixed with hurried dialogue. I was most looking forward to seeing the great lion, Aslan, but alas, he was only portrayed with a small throw blanket the actors passed back and forth.

The book has many beloved magical elements that create its fantastical narrative, and although I admire the play for taking on such an endeavor, the story calls for a performance that is a little more larger than life.

Madeline McParland is a UVic student and freelancer.

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