Mack Gordon, Kaitlin Williams. Photo by Michael Julian Berz

A wooden floor, a cozy chair, an antique lamp, an old chest…and a wooden wardrobe. This simply lit, cozy stage is the setting for Pacific Theatre’s The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Rather than mount a large production with all four children from the original story, plus the rest of the menagerie, the roles are taken over by two talented young actors, Mack Gordon (Peter) and Kaitlin Williams (Lucy). Each of the two transform into characters with the donning of a coat from the wardrobe, and/or contortion of their faces and bodies.

Kaitlin Williams, Mack Gordon. Photo by Ron Reed
[Kaitlin Williams, Mack Gordon. Photo by Ron Reed]

This minimalist cast speaks to the theme of imagination. When I was young, the Chronicles of Narnia books were as hot as this generation’s Harry Potter books are. We didn’t have a film with each book release. The books lent themselves to a child’s imagination and creativity seeing the characters come alive through its pages.

What I enjoyed about last night’s opening performance was the giggle of young children “getting” the story without having it thrust into their faces. Many films don’t allow for kids to draw their own creative conclusions but rather let the simple plot or dialogue teach it to them. This production is refreshing.

The dusty spare room of Uncle Digory is revisited in the play as Peter and Lucy (two of the book’s main characters) relive the wonderful experiences of their youth when they walk through that wardrobe. The fantasy world of Narnia takes over when Gordon and Williams emerge onto the other side into a snowy forest, enhanced by Lauchlin Johnston’s atmospheric lighting design.

Mack and Kaitlin. Photo by Ron Reed.
[Mack and Kaitlin’s chemistry are evident: they’re married in real life. Photo by Ron Reed.]

I loved how the actors switched roles by simply wearing another coat. Set Designer Omanie Elias won a well-deserved Jessie Award for an earlier mounting of this production (also at the Pacific but with different actors).

The two-act play will leave you wanting to revisit the series of seven books, as well as hopefully getting youngsters to read them for the first time. After all, if they can pour through seven editions of Harry Potter, they’ve probably got imagination left over to enjoy these as well.

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is directed by Kerri Norris and continues to December 15 at the Pacific Theatre, and then moves to Coquitlam’s Evergreen Cultural Centre from December 19 to 22.

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