The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
3 out of 5
There's something of the Jennifer Saunders about Meg Fraser's White Witch. Her combination of haughtiness and vulnerability recalls the Absolutely Fabulous star at her most rattled. Arriving on a towering sledge, with her underworld menials slavering at her feet, she is formidable, yet not quite in control. Although this brings a comic edge to the antihero of CS Lewis's Narnia adventure, the overall effect is to make her more scary still: she's not just evil, she's erratic.
Fortunately, in Mark Thomson's dark staging for the older child, Fraser has an even more fearsome foe in Daniel Williams as the Christ-like Aslan, the lion. When his roar reverberates around the theatre, it leaves both friend and enemy in awe. And no one wants to mess with a creature prepared to be crucified for someone else's sins.
But thrown into relief by this archetypal good-versus-evil battle are the four children, evacuees from the war against Hitler, whose claim to righteousness is based more on breeding than real moral worth. Their ascension to the throne is the fantasy of a writer who was too keen to assert the hierarchical values of a dying empire. Only kid brother Edmund goes on a true journey of enlightenment, betraying his sister to the White Witch and living to pay the price. He earns his reward, while the others simply claim it, notably older brother Peter who succeeds in combat mainly because he is posh.
All of this means that, despite the forces unleashed by Thomson's production, the conviction of the performers and the magical transformations of Ken Harrison's set (which the young audience love), the story offers too little sense of elation when good triumphs over evil.
© Mark Fisher 2008