I was really fortunate to get tickets for me and my husband to see the Lincoln Minster Senior School perform ‘The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe’ last Saturday following a tip off from one of my friends recommending it to me; and we were delighted to be welcomed at the door of the hall by someone (one of the cast’s mum) greeting us with ‘Welcome to Narnia’…!
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a fantasy novel for children by C. S. Lewis, published by Geoffrey Bles in 1950. It’s the first published and best known of seven novels in The Chronicles of Narnia (1950–1956). This particular stage version was adapted especially, and brilliantly, by Lincoln Minster School’s Head of Drama, Jenny Wafer.
Having not seen a school production since I took part myself in ‘Joseph and his amazing technicolor dreamcoat’, probably back in 1976/1977 if my memory serves me, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this show; but having been pleasantly surprised by Lincoln University Graduates in ‘Treasure Island’ a few days before, I had high hopes for an entertaining evening, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed!
As we walked into the relatively small hall, we were faced with the ornate ‘wardrobe’; flanked either side by moveable walls and curtained entrances, and at the back of the hall, ‘the lamp post’… a point of reference throughout the production. The evacuees were the first members of cast to reveal themselves and I was immediately hooked by their characters. Peter Pevensie, the first of the siblings played by Aidan Turner, showed himself as the level headed of the 4; the sensible one. Then there was Susan, played beautifully by Nicole Lyttle, a kindly and bouncy character who’s continuous chatter and movement highlighted the nuances of her character really well. Then came Edmund, wonderfully played by Finley O’Sullivan; his humorous, argumentative and naughty nature, came across sometimes as being a bit bullish but at times showed his vulnerable side. And lastly there was Lucy, played by Hannah Secker. At first I thought one of the weaker cast members but I was sorely mistaken. Her quiet nature and sensitive personality was brilliantly portrayed and I soon realised that it was down to her acting ability and skill on the stage showing a level of innocence that I’m certain belied her real persona and age.
Other characters in the house included the starch Mrs Macready, played by Gracie-Mai Wood, Professor Kirke, the children’s guardian, played by Charlie Servonat-Blanc and Ivy and Betty, played by Olivia Webb and Tilly Mair.
The world of ‘Narnia’ is a land of talking animals, mythical creatures and the ‘White Witch’ who had ruled for 100 years of deep winter with no Christmas. ‘Narnia’ in Watkins Hall was beautifully magical… the set allowed the wardrobe to move away, turning, revealing white, sparkling trees with glimmering lights and snowy scenery. I found out that the whole production was student led, so the lighting, sound and set was all planned, organised and created by the senior students; they made and painted the set themselves and taught their own choreography; a superb testament to their passion and skill, led by Cathy Servonat. The costumes throughout were exceptional, from the WWII evacuees in simple attire to the creatures of Narnia that were modernistic in their look, with suggestions and hints at the animal portrayed.
Once in Narnia, happy go lucky Lucy had her first encounter with Mr Tumnus, played by Stephenson Catney. I think, overall, he was my favourite character in the show… his mop of unruly hair, little white horns, and brilliant characterisation, had me mesmerised whenever he was on stage. He played the twitchy faun, that desperately tried to be good and ultimately kind, but with underlying slyness where he was trying to hide the fact that he was really working for the white witch that was ultimately tearing him apart…
The other mythical characters included Jacob Baker and Poppy Wells who played Mr and Mrs Beaver, the squirrels (Olivia Parkinson, Felicity Waddingham, Zoe Lyttle and Sasha Neesham (they also played robins, an eagle and wolves); and there was a fox (Poppy Rogers) and other mythical creatures including Tilly Mair as a Dryad and Olivia Webb a Naiad, whilst Sophia McGill was a unicorn. All these characters worked throughout the show, not only to bring magic to Narnia, but in moving the set around between scenes, transforming the stage from wardrobe to magical lands, and back again, several times.
We saw Gracie-Mai (Mrs Macready) also playing Maugrim, the head wolf; Captain of the White Witch’s Secret Police, quite a scary but impressive character. Father Christmas (Seth Birkinshaw, who also played 1st wolf) also made an appearance, visually and with very distinctive vocals and the giant, Rumblebuffin, was a huge puppet, with the voice by Ted Latus. The white witch was guarded by two crow guards played by Jacqui Henes and Esther Yip
Our first glimpse of The White Witch was when the big pile of gleaming snow turned to reveal her sitting on her throne; adorned in glittering robes, embellished with sequins, diamanté, and silver thread, shimmering in the house lights, covered with a beautiful white fur robe. Amber Ackerman played a chilling part; scarily angry and dangerous and with a booming voice that would make any innocent or guilty person quake in their boots. The power she portrayed was brilliant, in contrast to the earlier scene where she showed remarkable versatility by showing us the complete opposite, convincingly persuading the vulnerable Edmund with her tempting Turkish Delight Treats.
An outstanding, stand out performance!
The White Witch was accompanied by the evil dwarf, Grumpskin, played by Katie Care. I worked with Katie previously as a cast member when she sang the beautiful descant part in the musical piece, John 19:41 at the end of Jesus Christ Superstar in the 2016 production in Lincoln Cathedral. Her beautifully melodic, angelic singing voice (as heard again in Mr Tumnus’ lullaby) was as far away from her portrayal of Grumpskin as you could ever wish to see. I admire her versatility which was remarkably evident when walking through the aisle to the stage; she was both threatening and menacing and her loud, harsh and raucous voice made me jump and edge away from my seat beside the aisle several times! Very disturbing and brilliantly played.
We saw for a second time, Charlie Servonat-Blanc playing ‘Aslan’ the rightful King of Narnia and other magic countries. He showed remarkable versatility in the contrasting performances; Professor Kirke, a quietly spoken, yet funny character, but Aslan, formidable, strong and authoritative showing great power.
Overall I was delighted with the whole performance; the ending left us looking for more as Professor Kirke slipped through the wardrobe doors into the twinkling light of Narnia with a nod and a wink.
Before I end, it would be remiss of me to not mention the interval… we were asked to leave the hall as the set was manipulated ready for the second half, and walk over to another building where we were delighted and surprised by some complimentary refreshments. Red or White Wine, orange juice, and some tasty treats to choose from including the best mince pies I’ve ever tasted – thanks to Head Chef Rob Smith, who made an appearance on BBC radio Linconshire with Melvin Prior on Monday December 19th.
Congratulations to all the cast and backstage crew, wonderful teamwork:
Scenic Art: Cathy Servonat, Finn Dillon, Ben Harris, Katie Mysers, Imogen Burch, Amelia Barrett, Lauren Lee, Oliver Blanchard, Regina Fan, Bella Wong, Carole Waynes, Hettie Holmes, Julia Higgins.
Lighting Design and Operation: Edward Latus
Sound Design: Jonathan Kobrus, Jenny Wafer
Sound Operation: Jonathan Kobrus
Costume: Birmingham Costume Hire
Stage Management: Caitlin O’Beirne, Sebastian Newell and Joshua Mackey
Choreography: Amber Ackerman
Mr Tumnus’ Lullaby performed by Katie Care
Costumes for Grumpskin and the Crow Guards designed and made by Nicole Lyttle
Directed by Jenny Wafer
Production Images were provided by Patrick Stubbs: available at Natural Expressions (client ordering password: Narnia)