It’s summer, well, it’s supposed to be. Hyde Park’s grass is green, it’s trees in bloom. Troops of tourists and walking commuters amble past the newly refurbished Kensington Palace. Partially hidden behind some adjacent great oaks is an enormous Cirque de Soleil-style white marquee. The passers-by barely notice it, or if they do, assume it’s a temporary venue for a private function, or perhaps some connection with the Olympics.
This is at least what I thought. I cycled past it twice most days on my journey to work and when it hadn’t disappeared after a few weeks, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to do some further investigation. I ventured round the edge of a square of white temporary fencing encircling a cluster of drinks tents and picnic tables. It wasn’t until I’d almost completed a full lap of the marquee that I finally found an A4 flyer stuck to a fence post, informing me that this was the venue for threesixty Theatre’s full-blown production of C.S. Lewis’s best-loved allegory – The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.
So why the secrecy? Discovering what it was did actually feel a bit like Lucy discovering Narnia, so maybe that was the point. I booked some cheap seats online and went with friends on a Thursday evening last week. It was raining so we couldn’t take advantage of the picnic tables in the fenced-off area. With the sun shining we would have been treated to views of the park and Kensington Palace but alas, the Great British Summer would not afford us this pleasure so we compromised with a picnic in the tented reception area and were treated to wartime songs, played live by three members of the cast.
When the bell sounded we made our way to the main auditorium to discover the threesixty theatre was three-quarters empty, and so we were upgraded to some seats much closer to the stage.
The performance was magnificent. So the songs may have been a little rubbish, bar a delightful falsetto solo from Mr Tumnus, but the set design, the characters and costumes and the choreography more than made up for it. The entire tent roof is turned into a canvas for a vivid moving set design created by powerful projectors. We move from the countryside, to the inside of the cupboard, to the snowy forests of Narnia, to the White Witch’s castle and the various other scenes from the book.
Characters fly round the tent on wires, the circular stage fully rotates to give a great sense of journey and movement. The acting is pretty solid – the main protagonists are believable; Lucy, Susan, Peter and Edmund are all true to their characters from the book; the White Witch (Sally Dexter) plays the evil/sexy, sexy/evil card very effectively and you get tingles down the back of your neck when the War Horse inspired Aslan roars. I discovered afterwards David Suchet provides the voice of Aslan, so if it is his roar then he goes right up in my estimation.
It’s meant to be a show for over a thousand spectators but there were barely 200 present. It was a little sad in this respect; it must be haemorrhaging money. But after HRH Kate went to see it last Friday perhaps that’s just the PR boost it needed. At the moment though a £25 ticket on the door gets you a £50 seat – and you can’t beat that.
by Edward Lines