FringeReview UK 2017
Steven Adams directs and designs this adaptation by Glyn Robbins of the Fifth Narnia chronicle of C. S. Lewis. Chris Smith’s responsible for all the video, projection and editing, opening up the tiny space to infinitude. Beverley Grover’s rapidly shifting lighting (and sound) even casts shadows over a dragon constructed by light operator Myles Locke, with Tom Williams who with Alison Williams painted the set. Patti Griffiths as ever for wigs.
I wonder if anyone will weary of this reviewer singing the praises of Brighton Little Theatre’s almost unbroken series of first-rate, and several outstanding productions all produced in Steven Adams’ spectacular set designs? Here’s another, directed by him too. BLT pulled out the yellow and green stops for Over The Rainbow and the same video effects and rapid scene changes are in evidence here. What draws BLT’s designs ahead of other like theatres are not only spectacular sets in a tiny space but inventive use of video and surround visual projection.
Chris Smith’s responsible for all the video, projection and editing, opening up the tiny space to infinitude, mainly of sea voyages, rough waters, apparent island idylls, a remarkable ship construction one side cut away moved on castors and able to house many of the cast; a dragon. The profligate use of effects and images for brief spells as it were (several of those) is as generous and magical as it is tricky. Beverley Grover’s rapidly shifting lighting (and sound) even casts shadows over a dragon constructed by light operator Myles Locke, with Tom Williams who with Alison Williams painted the set. One could go on, many of the cast do: the fleet of costumes, make-up and Patti Griffiths as ever for wigs.
Glyn Robbins has adapted C. S. Lewis’ third Narnia (fifth in sequence) Chronicle of Narnia, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, from 1950 which picks up quite a way from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Aslan the lion’s only afar off in a projector somewhere, though his roar’s impressive, and the two younger children Edmund (thoughtfully upright Mike Williams) and Lucy (Laura Scobie, palpably exuding courage nuanced with fears and shining decency) are too old to freely pass through the wardrobe into Narnia where they’re anointed monarchs. They’re stuck at useless cousin Eustace’s home (a superbly peevish turn by Leigh Ward) but the Dawn Treader picture enlarges itself just as Eustace tries to shatter it and they’re swallowed in adventure, Eustace ever after bleating for the British Consul. Joseph Bentley makes of King Caspian who collects them a fundamentally noble being riven with doubt and occasional overreach infected by their eastward tack.
They’re off to discover seven lords who sought the world’s end. The Dawn Treader’s crew, Suzanne Buist as Captian Drinian always exasperated with Josie Durand’s incompetent land-lubber recruit Rynelf comprise one comic turn, and Mimi Goddard’s Reepicheep the heroic fighting mouse whose exploits and self-sacrifice makes this a moving, and profounder experience than you see in panto per se. Underlying this, of course, much theology resides. Happily most of it smokes out in allegorical subtext as Lewis intended.
One lord’s discovered in the quiet enchantment of Nikki Dunsford’s Lady Bern, as the seafarers help her to rid an island of slave-traders (Gerry Wicks in one of his several roles, Gumpas). The audience are invited to bid for slaves briefly, and this might have been made more of. Apart from this early exile to the expedition, the fate of the others traced with the fate of two, in a hopscotch of island adventures including Eustace’s transformation into a dragon who can at least nod and shake his head, statue, and the rescue of a ragged lord. The dazzling reversals of fortune and cheerful swing-around of the boat when revealed again maintains an ebullience so the darker measures of the tale register but don’t intrude.
There’s one of Keziah Israel’s turns as the apparition of the defeated Witch in the isle of Nightmares, enjoying the villainy she entered in as a slaver Pug earlier. The other three lords are dozing at the island near the World’s End, reigned over by Dunsford’s Ramandu and with her daughter Rebecca Polling enchanting Caspian, though he determines on premature self-sacrifice. Can the others stop him? And who’s the one who must never return with them, but who goes voluntarily into that mysterious land? And there have been several, the land of the Thumpers where Gerry Wicks and his library (a neatly reversed set of wardrobes) teaches Lucy instant enlightenment.
There’s a dizzying roll-call of fine work, Nick Barber, Debbie Creissen, Dug Godfrey. Joanna McEwen, Ros Caldwell all turn neat cameos as do the tiniest roles from stage managers.
Even in this tiny space, there’s an eminently professional standard at work. The tincture of magic, the wild tints and reveals, the visceral video-worlds of the sea’s lurch, all these build an unforgettable rendering of Narnia. Any first-time play-goer should have this etched as a memory forever. It can’t be anything other than outstanding. Enjoy as an early Christmas gift to yourselves. Don’t miss the curtain call.