If trying to fit a novel into a film is tricky business, slipping one into a 75-minute play is near impossible. Unfortunately, that is what Carousel Theatre’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe tries, and ultimately fails to do. To burn through hundreds of pages of plot, this adaptation by Joseph Robinette feels like a race consisting of a montage of familiar moments, rather than a cohesive theatrical experience.
Based on the children’s series by C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe follows the four Pevensie siblings as they wander through an old wardrobe in wartime England and find themselves in the fantastical land of Narnia.
Centring on the younger siblings Lucy (Kaitlyn Yott) and Edmund (Chris Lam), the children must negotiate themes of betrayal, sacrifice, and forgiveness as they work alongside Mr. And Mrs. Beaver (Nick Fontaine and Masae Day), and the Lion Aslan (Ian Butcher) against the White Witch (Sereana Malani) and her hench-creatures.
The performances are all capable, with a standout belonging to Sereana Malani who seems to be the only actor given a moment to breathe. Her witch is a charismatic baddie who holds the stage while even the fastest scene change whirls by.
Shizuka Kai’s set is one of pastel simplicity, while the music by Julie Casselman allows the transitions to gather momentum rather than feel as abrupt as they are.
It is Amanda Testini’s choreography and Carole Higgins’ direction however, that offer the largest question mark of the play.
Like Chekhov’s gun, young Peter (Tim Carlson) is given a sword which the audience expects him to use. Instead, we are treated to a beautifully choreographed game which, while aesthetically pleasing, contains all the excitement of a game of chess. It reinforces a show going out of its way to be all plot and no action.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe does many things right. The performances are sweet and endearing. The set looks like an ice cream treat. But its greatest weakness is a script that is given no room to breathe. The result? The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is a frenzied sprint through the land of our childhood imagination.
Take a breath before you go in. You won’t get a chance later.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe adapted by Joseph Robinette from the novel by C.S. Lewis. Directed by Carole Higgins. A Carousel Theatre for Young People production on stage at the Waterfront Theatre (1585 Johnston Street, Granville Island, Vancouver) until January 6. Visit https://carouseltheatre.ca for tickets and information.tickets and information.