The Wardrobe, The Witch and The Lion
The Lowry, Salford Touring until May 7 2hrs 5mins
Prudencia Hart’s Strange Untoward
Royal Exchange Manchester Jusqu’au 15 January 2hrs 30mins
This revival of Sally Cookson’s stage version of The Wardrobe, The Witch and The Lion may be a festive treat – but it tours until May and should have no problem entrancing audiences right into springtime.
It is bankable and family friendly, thanks to a great cast of actor-musicians.
From opening with strains of We’ll Meet Again to Narnia’s talking animals costumed in gas masks, the story’s wartime context is beefed up. This story reflects our desire for imagination and escape in difficult times.
There’s cosy comic business from the animals – although Aslan is suitably noble, performed as man and beast by a lion puppet and Chris Jared (above) in a shaggy coat
There’s cosy comic business from the animals – although Aslan is suitably noble, performed as man and beast by a lion puppet and Chris Jared in a shaggy coat. Karise Yansen is the most convincing child-playing adult, and Lucy the guileless Lucy stands out.
However, the production is severely lacking in a villain. Samantha Womack, a charming White Witch, but it is unlikely that she will strike terror even into a toddler. Michael Fentiman’s direction can fail to ramp the tension at crucial moments.
Nonetheless, the show delivers on folksy charm: Benji Bower and Barnaby Race’s music provides an atmospheric, film-like underscoring and bursts sweetly into folk songs and dances.
Set on a snowy mid-winter’s night, David Greig and Wils Wilson’s wild, joyful, modern verse fable Prudencia Hart’s Strange Untoward It is a festive offering.
Originally performed in pubs, the socially-distanced set-up at the Royal Exchange doesn’t do it any favours – yet a brilliant cast make it crackle into life.
Prudencia is an academic studying Scottish Border songs. Colin Syme is her flirtatious opponent and Prudencia finds herself stuck in a snowy pub with Colin Syme.
Utterly out of place among the singing, stripping and sambucas, Prudencia wanders into the cold night – only to be ensnared by the devil and taken to hell: a Kelso B&B with a view of an Asda car park.
As Prudencia and the devil fall in love and lust, Prudencia’s audacious second part skips several millennia. Eventually, Prudencia learns the value of living life to the full and longs to return to it – even to bad karaoke.
Debbie Hannan’s production is funny, fleet-footed and powered by music, from folky fiddle to Kylie Minogue. Joanne Thomson makes a winning Prudencia – a believable prig and devil-seducer – while Paul Tinto is perfect as a charismatic Satan.