Review of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”
by Charles Spenser
Daily Telegraph, 3 December 1998
I have to confess I was dreading reviewing this show. I’m keenly aware that many people have a fierce passion for CS Lewis’s Narnia stories and regard any criticism of them as heresy. Unfortunately, I will never forget the feeling of disgust and disappointment I experienced at the age of 12 when, about halfway through The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe I belatedly realized that what seemed to be a perfectly decent adventure story was in fact an allegory about Christianity. It seemed a particularly mean trick to play on unsuspecting child readers, covert evangelism of almost sinister subtlety.
I re-read the book the other day and it still strikes me as a real turn-off, for there is something at once prissily cosy and piously priggish about Lewis’s prose, that sets the teeth on edge. As Keats observed, we hate art that has a palpable design on us. Yet amazingly, one might almost say miraculously, the RSC’s stage adaptation works, and at best, works superbly. Perhaps the fact that the adapter, Adrian Mitchell, is a self-confessed atheist has something to do with it. Although lovers of the original needn’t be alarmed — Mitchell remains remarkably faithful to Lewis’s story while letting non-believers enjoy the ride as well….
…With all of Lewis’s descriptive prose and preachifying stripped away, the adventure story comes into sharp focus….
The children in the audience were clearly enchanted and enthralled. So, much to my surprise, was this crabby doubting Thomas of a reviewer.