Monday, August 06, 2018

Creatively staged “The Magician’s Nephew” captures the imagination with cardboard boxes and electronic graphics

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing (G. Bernard Shaw)

“The Chronicles of Narnia” is a series of seven fantasy novels by C. S. Lewis.  Many consider that this series, and Lewis’s writing style, changed the very nature of children’s literature.

The series, which has sold over 100 million copies, takes place in the mythical land of Narnia, where magic, mythical beasts and talking animals interact with children. 

The series includes such titles as “Prince Caspian:  The Return to Narnia,” “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” “The Silver Chair,” and “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” which have been transformed into a stage play, as has “The Magician’s Nephew.”

The books are not without controversy.  Taking his themes from Greek and Roman mythology, as well as British and Irish fairy tales, the stories overlay Christian themes.  The latter causes difficulties for those who do not subscribe to religious teachings.

Lewis has suggested that he did not directly intend to write his Narnia stories as Christian tales, but that these aspects appeared subconsciously as he wrote.  In ‘The Magician’s Nephew,’ for example, the story explores a number of themes, including “atonement, original sin, temptation and the order of nature.”

“The Magician’s Nephew,” was published in 1955 and is a prequel to the series, tells the tale of how Narnia was created and how evil first entered it.  It relates how “Digory Kirke and his friend, Polly Plummer, stumble into different worlds by experimenting with magic rings made by Digory's uncle. 

In the dying world of Charn they awaken Queen Jadis, and they witness the creation of a Narnian world (where Jadis later becomes the White Witch).  Many long-standing questions about the world are answered as a result.”

The Shaw production, under the very creative touch of director, Tim Carroll, set designer Douglas Paraschuk and projections designer Cameron Davis is visually and aesthetically compelling, easily transferring us from London, at the turn of the twentieth century to the worlds beyond.

Magically, brown cardboard boxes become walls, thrones, rocks, trees and so much more.  Perfectly choreographed moves the objects, and the appearance of images on them.  Use of masks and puppets add to the illusions, as do the well-conceived costumes designed by Jennifer Goodman.

The acting is top notch.  Vanessa Sears (Polly) and Travis Seetoo (Digory) convincingly transform themselves into tweens.  Their enthusiasm and joyousness easily convey the curiosity, fear and adventuresomeness of youth.

Special note:  Backstage tours of the Festival Theatre are available to allow participants to not only see the stage, dressing rooms, costume production areas and make-up areas, but to participate in mask making and reproducing the stage actions of “The Magician’s Nephew.”  It is a great experience for both kids and adults.

Capsule judgment: “The Magician’s Nephew” is a visual wonder.  Whether you buy into the story’s religious implications, or not, it’s worth attending, just to see the stage illusions in action.  This is one of this year’s Shaw highlight productions!