Simple magic transports kids to Narnia in MTYP's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Lively Manitoba Theatre for Young People production of C.S. Lewis classic a testament to power of imagination
The story of kids fighting for justice in a land where winter never ends may have particular resonance for youngsters in the cold, dark depths of a Manitoba January.
So an adaptation of C.S. Lewis's 1950 children's classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe feels a timely choice for Manitoba Theatre for Young People — and so much the better that it's staged with a creative flair that celebrates the power of imagination and the simple magic of good storytelling.
The 1999 adaptation, created by American actor and writer le Clanché du Rand (adapted here by Kim Selody), keeps the broad strokes of Lewis's story, neatly and smartly packaged into a brisk and kid-friendly 60 minutes.
The Pevensie children, sent from their London home to escape the bombings of the Second World War, discover a magic portal to the fantastical land of Narnia. There, they find magical creatures, including talking beavers, half-man-half-goats and the messianic lion Aslan, engaged in a struggle against the evil White Witch, who has plunged Narnia into an unending winter.
That kind of fantasy storytelling may seem better suited to big-budget Hollywood epics (like the 2005 film adaptation), but director Andraea Sartison smartly keeps this production bare-bones and focused on the strength of good storytelling, while leaving plenty of room for kids to fill in the gaps with their active imaginations.
They also take turns as narrators, but one of the strengths of the adaptation and the production is that it always feels like it is showing rather than telling — even while leaving many details to the imagination.
Above all, it has a sense of play to it — fitting for a story where the heroes are children left to fend for themselves without the help (or interference) of adults. Quick changes of character, costume and scenery (often accomplished simply by spinning around the wheeled titular wardrobe) keep the action moving at a lively pace.
There are some nice design flourishes, too, especially in sparingly used but ear-pleasing music from Red Moon Road's Daniel Jordan and striking lighting from local video artist Jaymez.
Sartison also moves the action from England to Canada — indicated by touches like maple leafs spotted on blankets and the fact the witch's wolf henchman is decked out menacingly in hockey gear. It's a nice way to suggest that magic knows no geographic bounds, though some of the very British language doesn't quite ring true without the accents.
Still, it's got plenty of charm and energy to engage the elementary school-aged crowd it's aimed at. There are some somewhat intense moments, including some violence and the deaths of characters, but they're presented subtly and presentationally enough so as not to be too upsetting for most young viewers.
It's a charming testament to the power of a good story — and to the magic that awaits through any door, provided you're willing to look for it.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe runs at Manitoba Theatre for Young People until Feb. 4. It will tour Manitoba schools until May 11.