— Photo by Ron Reed. Pictured: Kaitlin Williams and Mack Gordon.
THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE
All theatre is an act of faith. Actors stand on a stage, pretending it’s somewhere else and they’re someone else, and ask the audience to believe it. We pay our money, sit in the darkened house, and suspend our disbelief. But some shows require more faith than others.
Where better to find it than in a church?
Pacific Theatre’s tiny performance space, in the basement of Holy Trinity Anglican Church, is the venue for C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, performed by only two actors.
A classic can be dramatized in different ways. You can design elaborate sets and costumes and use casts of ten or more to try to replicate as accurately as possible for your audience the look and feel of the original and its various characters. This is the route taken by the Arts Club in its terrific production of It’s a Wonderful Life, and by Carousel Theatre with The Wizard of Oz.
The alternative, if you don’t have the budget or a big enough theatre, is to make a virtue of necessity. Go small, go minimalist. Rely on the strength of your story, the talent of your actors, and the willingness of your audience to use their imaginations. Ask them for a leap of faith.
In his program note, Pacific Theatre’s artistic director Ron Reed writes, “Even if we had the budget for a massive cast and a theatre full of special effects, we knew it wouldn’t be worth the effort. Because the best we could build for you wouldn’t measure up to the Narnia you can create in your mind.”
Director Kerri Norris and her two young actors, Mack Gordon and Kaitlin Williams, resourcefully recreate the magic of Narnia as a theatre of the imagination. The actors transform into a host of different characters before our eyes, acting out the story in 1940s English street clothes on a sitting room set made up of a wardrobe, an armchair, a lamp and little else.
It’s tough sledding at first, as they establish the frame in which grown-up siblings Peter and Lucy awkwardly recall their childhood adventure in Narnia, and step back through the wardrobe to relive it. But the actors soon warm to their task, and it didn’t take long on opening night for the youthful audience to become enthralled.
Whoever adapted Lewis’ novel (uncredited in the program) follows its plot faithfully and includes all the major characters and events: Lucy’s initial foray into Narnia and her meeting with Mr. Tumnus, the faun; brother Edmund’s falling under the spell of the White Witch; the four siblings’ visit with Mr. and Mrs. Beaver; the militant Santa who provides them with weapons; the arrival of Lion King Aslan, his miraculous fate, and the climactic battle.
All this is accomplished by Gordon and Williams with varied success and shaky English accents. Gordon is the more dynamic actor. His characterizations are funny and detailed, especially a sequence as Edmund where he mimes eating the Queen’s addictive Turkish delight. Williams does her strongest work as the evil Queen, whipping on a white fur coat and transforming her body language and vocal pitch. It’s nice to see both take turns as Aslan, indicated simply by donning a shawl.
Lauchlin Johnston’s quick lighting changes help shift locales and enhance suspense. But the primary design element is the excellent soundscape created by Corina Akeson and Jeff Tymoschuk, projecting a richly textured aural dimension of Narnia for us to imagine.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe moves to Coquitlam’s Evergreen Cultural Centre, Dec. 19-22.