While Lexington Children’s Theatre is always bringing new material to the stage, there are certain shows that appear in a permanent, unofficial rotation, classics of the children’s literature canon that resurface every few years. Often, these shows are very similar to previous versions, but sometimes they are wildly different.
Such is the case with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, based on the first novel in the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I walked into the theater expecting a scaled-down version of Joseph Robinette’s adaptation, which the theater mounted in epic fashion for the Opera House stage in 2012, but instead got a scaled-down-even-more version dramatized by le Clanche du Rand.
In du Rand’s version, a cast of only two actors enthusiastically brings the tale to life with the help of quick-change friendly costume design by Jessica Pribble (based on original costume design by Amy Berry) and clever scenic design by Curtis Trout.
With director Vivian Snipes making the most of the stage with fluid, innovative blocking and lightning-fast transitions, the pace of the show moves quickly. Actors Ashlee Collins and Robert Hooghkirk portray Lucy and Peter, two of the Pevensie foursome who discovered adventure, danger and eventual glory after a magical wardrobe transported them to the land of Narnia.
Collins and Hooghkirk prove to be up to the difficult task of portraying all of the tale’s characters, from their fellow siblings to the White Witch to Aslan to beavers and more, thanks in large part to du Rand’s use of the “magic circle” as a narrative device. The pair create an invisible, imaginary circle that encompasses the stage in the play’s early moments, and they explain that when they are outside the perimeter of the circle they are functioning as narrators, but when they are within it they are bringing the story to life.
I wondered if some of the substantial cuts might flummox any of the young audience members who might not be familiar with the tale, but the rapt attention of my own 4-year-old, who accompanied me, proved otherwise. Du Rand’s cuts are fairly extreme — there is no Father Christmas scene, for instance. Considering the fast pace and instinctive style of storytelling, the cuts work by keeping the audience from getting bogged down in character development that cannot be fully realized due to time restrictions. Even the siblings’ stage times are truncated so characters such as Edmund appear only when absolutely necessary to the plot. Side note: I was sort of glad that older sister Susan got little more than a grudging imaginative nod to her existence now and then; serves her right for believing none of it really happened in subsequent books.
In many ways, Lucy and Peter’s two-person retelling of the story is even more magical than the epic, Opera house version due to its reliance on innovation and clever storytelling techniques, not to mention how the artistic weight of the show is carried by two actors rather than dozens.
Overall, the show serves as an easily digestible terrific introduction for younger children and an invitation to revisit the familiar world of Narnia for older children.
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer and critic.
‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’
What: Lexington Children’s Theatre’s production of le Clanche du Rand’s stage version of the C.S. Lewis classic
When: 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 19, 2 p.m. Dec. 20
Where: Lexington Children’s Theatre, 418 W. Short St.
Tickets: $18 adults, $15 children