The Playhouse Goes Into the World of Narnia

By Gretchen Priddy

The Playhouse’s popular, family-friendly Off the Hill series takes an exciting step into another world with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The show visits community centers throughout Greater Cincinnati from April 8 through May 20, 2017.

The adaptation by Le Clanché du Rand introduces audiences to a vast array of C.S. Lewis’ classic literary characters played by two casts of two actors from the Playhouse’s 2016-17 Bruce E. Coyle Acting Intern Company, including Richard Buchanan, Ernaijsa Curry, Tatum Hunter and Taha Mandviwala.

Daunielle Rasmussen, Director of Education and Community Engagement, says, “This adaptation will be a completely magical experience for little ones. It definitely meets them on their level because the way that our team is going to play is how they play: with their imaginations. They will be able to see themselves as characters in the show.”

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will be directed by Brian Isaac Phillips, the Producing Artistic Director of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company.

“The thing that excites me the most about working with the team is the variety of imaginations coming together to work on the same story,” says Phillips. “The script is minimal in what it demands, but it inspires many different takes on how to tell the story. I was first exposed to this story in elementary school. We were shown a made-for-TV version from either BBC or PBS. My hope is that our production will be an introduction for a new generation and make the same lasting impression.”

The story of Narnia begins when the Pevensie children are taken to Professor Digory Kirke’s house in the height of the Blitz during World War II to escape the dangers that lurk over London, England. Trying to make the most of their dreary situation, their adventures begin with an innocent game of hide-and-seek. Lucy Pevensie stumbles upon a land she could have never dreamed of when she chooses a lone wardrobe as a hiding place from her siblings.

The original novel was published in 1950 after the tough times of the war ended. Lewis takes the readers’ imaginations to their full capacities with mythical characters, including fauns, dwarves and talking lions. The adaptation begins with Lucy and Peter talking about what happened to them in Narnia. Lucy then prompts Peter to share their experiences with the audience.

One may be curious how the creative team tackles such a challenge with only two actors and a traveling set. The show is a performance in trunk-style theatre, with wardrobe and props emerging from a single place throughout the show. In this way, the audience looks to each of the actors to bring the exciting world of Narnia to life.

“Our set designer, Kenton Brett, has done a fantastic job. He starts simple with a neutral space and then takes on all of these different elements of the world. He takes everyday objects and transforms them into mystical pieces of Narnia,” says Rasmussen.

Brett’s creative and playful work helps create a world ready to retell the story of how the four siblings discovered the difference between truth and deceit and fought their own war for a land that was completely altered by the wicked powers of the Snow Queen.

“I hope the audience takes away two things from this production: an excitement about this story and a desire to explore all of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia stories; and an appreciation of how little you need to tell an epic story if you let your imagination fly!” says Phillips.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the final production for the Off the Hill series for the 2016-17 season.

“This year we tried to make the age ranges on our shows a little bit wider to be able to include families with children,” says Rasmussen. “The goal with our tours is always to create access in communities and schools where experiencing theatre is not a regular part life. We try to inspire creativity, storytelling and compassion. I think we’ve achieved all of these things, and we hope to continue to provide high-quality productions in an accessible way to families with young children.”

Off the Hill is supported by The Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation and John C. Griswold Foundation. Photo of Tatum Hunter by Tony Arrasmith/Arrasmith & Associates.