The Bridge Theatre transports its audience to Narnia for its Christmas show, itself transported from Leeds Playhouse where it opened in 2017.
Sally Cookson’s staging for Elliott and Harper Productions is a typically wonder-filled affair. It has been rejigged to fit the Bridge stage and loses something in the process. The spectacle of this show in-the-round was quite something; here it feels a bit hemmed in, even if the action frequently spills out into the aisles.
Cookson gently emphasises the plight of the Pevensie children as evacuees, sent far away from home and missing their parents. She blends relatively simple theatrical tricks – Narnia is conjured with billowing white sheets, a series of suitcases turns into a train – with impressive costumes, aerial work and puppetry. Wil Johnson’s regal and benevolent Aslan is represented by a winged lion puppet with glowing eyes that hovers over him like a protective spirit; Laura Elphinstone’s menacing-but-not-terrifying White Witch sports a towering headdress.
As her wintery hold over Narnia begins to break, the production becomes increasingly colourful. Things get pretty trippy. There are giant cubes of Turkish delight and vast foam flowers. Nor does it shy away from the darker parts of CS Lewis’ allegory-heavy original. The creatures that populate the battle sequences are genuinely creepy – and potentially quite scary for young people.
Keziah Joseph’s Lucy is plucky and spirited, while John Leader brings a dash of vulnerability to the role of Edmund, a character who can often come across as a snivelling bully. While the production is a little on the long side and some of the songs feel superfluous (though this is definitely not the case with the delightful tap-dancing Santa sequence), Cookson’s staging is infused with adventurous spirit and studded with moments of magic.