REVIEW: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, Chichester Festival Youth Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre, until December 31.
Another year, another triumph - and a big slice of humble pie to all of us who thought, without quite daring to say it, “not again” when The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe was announced as this year’s show, just six years after they last did it.
On the most miserable, rainy Monday afternoon, the combined talents of Chichester Festival Youth Theatre took us to another world with a superlative performance, rich in magic, imagination and skill.
Not remotely fazed by the pre-show dramas (evacuation and fire engines etc), the young performers dazzled from the off with a terrific train-less train.
But the moment we knew we were in for a treat was when Simon Higlett’s wonderful set transformed itself before our eyes, from panelled country house to the icy forest of Narnia.
It’s difficult to believe that Higlett has ever served the CFT better, providing here exactly the right platform for the youngsters to shine.
Amy Jackson’s superb costumes made it a visual feast from first to last, and director Dale Rooks’ excellent marshalling of her vast cast did the rest, everyone doing their bit in a genuine spectacle - colourful, fast-moving, full of invention and choreographed to perfection.
In truth, the songs weren’t exactly striking or memorable in themselves, but the performers more than made up for it as the Pevensie family - in this performance Grant Harris, Poppy Crawford, Jake Fieldhouse and Romina Hytten
- drew us into their remarkable adventure, Facing them, Georgina Briggs was suitably menacing as The White Witch.
In a cast so strong, it seems unfair to single out individuals, but Josh Vine soared and roared as the lion Aslan. At first sight - and how wrong can you be - the Aslan costume he held rather than wore seemed the night’s first (and only) misjudgement.
It just didn’t look as if it was going to work, but Josh played the part magnificently - majestic and wise, taunted but all-powerful - making the most unlikely-looking of Aslans live and breathe.
And maybe that’s the greatest tribute to the youth theatre. You don’t sit there making allowances for them, thinking ‘Oh well, it’s only a youth theatre.’ Far from it. Director Dale coaches her young performers to the very highest standards, and year after year, they theatre deliver. A deeply-impressive night all round.