The Magician’s Nephew review at Shaw Festival, Canada – ‘ingenious and charming’
Before taking over the artistic leadership of Canada’s Shaw Festival, British director Tim Carroll’s biggest Canadian box-office success was his 2016 production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the rival Stratford Festival. So perhaps it was inevitable that he’d bring CS Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles to the Shaw, a summer festival that, like Stratford, depends as much on tourists and family audiences as it does on lovers of classic theatre.
If only to judge from the school groups that sat quietly enthralled throughout its opening matinee, The Magician’s Nephew is destined to be another hit. This sprightly new dramatisation of the Narnia prequel, ushering in Carroll’s second Shaw season, is cleverly conceived, charmingly acted and imbued with the playfulness that characterises the director’s work.
The canny adaptation, by Canadian playwright Michael O’Brien, soft-pedals Lewis’ Christian allegory while finding fresh contemporary relevance. When young hero Digory (Travis Seetoo) strong-arms his friend Polly (Vanessa Sears) and wilfully rings the bell that awakens the cruel queen Jadis (Deborah Hay), the message couldn’t be clearer that toxic masculinity begets evil. The god-like lion Aslan, meanwhile, is portrayed by Kyle Blair not with leonine majesty but as a gentle father figure dressed in khaki, suggesting Digory’s own soldier dad.
Carroll’s staging takes its inspiration from a child’s endless creativity with a simple cardboard box. In Douglas Paraschuk’s ingenious design, every set piece and prop appear to have been carved out of cardboard or constructed with paper.
The Shaw’s celebrated ensemble work is on display in the 15-member cast, while at the same time allowing for delightful turns by festival veterans Hay and Steven Sutcliffe, as that vain, lily-livered wannabe wizard, Uncle Andrew. The company appear to be having a jolly time recreating Lewis’s wondrous Narnia onstage and their ebullience is infectious.
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