The Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh has a great reputation for staging fabulous Christmas shows and this year’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is no exception. There was a sense of relief with good triumphing over evil in Theresa Heskin’s adaptation as Aslan’s roar reverberated round the theatre, preparing to sacrifice himself for sinners, unrepentant and naughty kids. There is an immediacy about Heskin’s theatre, whose community work and initiatives underpin her strong ethic as a theatre maker and playwright. But underneath the thick layers of allegory and symbolism, C.S. Lewis’ familiarity with Greek scholarship and biblical connotations, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is about transcendence. About a child’s ability to combine imagination and intuition and skilfully weave both into awareness. About rebirth’s victory over birth. It’s about God and good and those of us who, through happenstance or circumstance, know the meaning of the word exile. Lewis said that most of his books were written for “tous exo”, which is the Greek way of saying “those outside.” Let us agree that he was referring to the passage in the Bible in which Jesus said that He taught in parables so that “those outside” may be always seeing and never perceiving. And in truly passionate style C.S Lewis delivers his story of the Revelation as he would have imagined it as a child growing up in Ireland.

Imagistically beautiful, the play’s accomplished scenography takes us through the sliding possibilities of corridors, doors, dark passages and wood panelled libraries to Aslan’s sacrifice on the Stone Table, symbolizing Mosaic Law which breaks when he is resurrected. The strict justice of Old Testament Law is replaced with substitutional atonement, with redeeming grace and forgiveness. Images of Christ’s passion are viscerally represented with Susan and Lucy tending to Aslan's body after he dies and being the first to see him after his resurrection. Lewis’ Aslan is the Lion of Judah in the Revelation.

The music is enchanting with a new recorded score by Claire Mackenzie with the added bonus of passionate performances by Claire-Marie Seddon and Charlotte Miranda Smith as Lucy and Susan, and James Rottger and Cristian Ortega as Peter and Edmund. Andrew Panton’s direction loyal to Lewis’ wild visions. But the play fails to deliver a powerful message of bad and evil because ultimately it is trapped in a stereotyped dominant structure lamenting the fact that the Witch must be a powerful woman resonating patronising laughter and tired old jokes. My daughter Arabella, who is nearly eight years old was much impressed with Aslan’s sacrifice, his deep voice and imposing physique but did not fail to remark that given his impressive stature, he had little to fear when it came to the powerful Snow Queen other than her irritatingly squeaky tones. A beautiful spectacle, luxuriously produced but a wasted opportunity in recycling worn-out narratives and drained paternalism.

Having said that, all is well that ends well: “It feels like we’d been there a hundred years and yet the clock says it was less than ten minutes." Edmund reminds us at the end.

And we must not allow ourselves to forget that Narnia is ultimately about time. Is there a time for believing? A time for atonement? A time for forgiving and being forgiven? Is there a time for Christmas?

There is.
Is it clock time?
It isn’t. We must each find our own.

© Effie Samara 2015

Author's review: