Review: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe at Pacific Theatre

Last year, with just two performers on its intimate stage, Pacific Theatre presented a Christmas Carol that whisked audiences about Dickens' London through a heartwarming and unique manner of theatrical storytelling. This year they have upped the ante, transporting audiences to Narnia's snowy glades, towering castles, and sprawling battlefields.

Mack Gordon and Kaitlin Williams. Photo by Michael Julian Berz.

The framing for the imaginative exposition is cleverly done. It is many years since the Pevensie children entered Professor Diggory's wardrobe and had their adventure. Lucy, the youngest of the four, is now a grown woman. She is back in the spare room looking at the wardrobe when her eldest brother Peter arrives, warning that they must hurry if they are to catch the train home for Christmas.

The two begin to reminisce about their time in Narnia: how Lucy came to find herself in the wardrobe, and how the adventure began. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, their manner of telling shifts from simply describing the events and characters to imitating them. Soon, by shrugging on a white fur coat and with a haughty, upthrust chin, Lucy is the White Witch. With a scarf jauntily tossed over his shoulder and with legs bowed out, Peter transforms into Mr. Tumnis.

Relying on the great physicality and vocal dexterity of the performers, the familiar tale is told in a fresh, spell-binding way. The approach feels deeply appropriate for the story told as, just like the novel, it calls on the audience to be an active participant in the tale's telling. Even the most robust, Wagnerian staging could not do justice to the scenes and events described by Lewis, but by encouraging imagination, the audience become collaborators in creating Narnia's colourful world.

Kaitlin Williams as Lucy & Mack Gordon as Mr. Beaver. Photo by Ron Reed.

Of course, such an approach places immense demands upon the two actors telling the tale, and in this regard the show does not fall flat. The cast consists of Mack Gordon and Kaitlin Williams, a pair of up and coming young performers whose names should be familiar to regular readers. Guided by the skillful hand of director Kerris Norri, the mercurial pair whisk us through the action with bright-eyed enthusiasm and crystal-clear storytelling.

Both are adept at quickly, subtly changing their body and voice to become the various characters; both also demonstrate great ease as switching between passages of dialogue and exposition.

While the individual performances are wonderful to watch, what really generates driving energy and excitement is the chemistry between the two. Together they possess incredible charisma and a delightful sense of play; the amount of fun they have telling the story is palpable. There is an additional, meta-level of enjoyment also to be had in the knowledge that the two are, in fact, a married couple.

In a month where stages are awash in spectacle, there is something lovely and heartwarming about being told a fantastic tale in an intimate setting. With The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe Pacific Theatre offers just this; a timeless and familiar story relayed in a fresh and meaningful way.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe runs until Dec. 15 at Pacific Theatre and from Dec. 19-22 at Evergreen Cultural Centre.

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Categories: Musings