No other story holds a place in my heart quite like C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. It’s the first novel I remember from my childhood, read to me with great reverence by my older cousin Norma who introduced me to so many magical worlds. As a young adult, I painstakingly searched out second-hand copies of the other novels in the series so that I’d have a matching set (circa 1984, Fontana Lions). (I also own the box set of the BBC adaptaions.) So when Theatre New Brunswick reached out to let me know they were staging a production of this classic, I jumped at the offer to attend the show and to learn more about their plans. (You could be their guest, too; read on for your chance to win tickets to the upcoming performance at Theatre l’Escaouette. A perfect pre-Christmas treat!)
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe was originally published in 1950. C.S. Lewis wrote it as a gift for his goddaughter, Lucy Barfield; his dedication notes that “when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books.” He mourns that she is “already too old for fairy tales,” but imagines the day when “you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” What a perfect description of how we age! There does indeed come a time in life in which we begin to revisit the magic we once treasured as a child, and I couldn’t be more excited to think of all the young girls and boys, as well as all those formerly young girls and boys, that will be transported to Narnia this December thanks to Theatre New Brunswick.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story, it’s the tale of four siblings sent to the English countryside during World War II. The youngest, Lucy, stumbles into the world of Narnia when she hides in an old wardrobe during a game of hide and seek. Lucy’s brother, Edmund, is the first to follow her to the magical world of talking animals and perpetual winter; where Lucy finds friendship, Edmund finds himself under the spell of the White Witch who wrested control of the land from its rightful ruler, Aslan the lion. The eldest siblings, Peter and Susan, also come to Narnia, and the quartet embark on a journey that showcases the trials and tribulations of family dynamics as well as the battles that rage between good and evil, as imagined through the eyes of a child.
Edmund is played by Grade 8 student, Ben Rutter.
“I have two sisters in real life,” says Rutter. “I could definitely relate to him trying to prove himself throughout the show and prove his worth.”
Rutter is no stranger to the stage, having appeared in numerous productions with Theatre New Brunswick’s Theatre School and George Street Middle School in Fredericton.
“I’ve been acting since I was about seven years old,” he says, sharing his aspirations to make this a career. “When I got the part it was mind-blowing!”
Theatre New Brunswick (TNB) invited Lynda Hill to direct this production; a fitting match, given her decades of work focused on theatrical performances for youth.
“It’s a perfect piece for the holidays, full of some really beautiful messages about the importance of friendship and family, the resilience of youth, and the power of the imagination,” explains Hill. “These epic stories remind us of the great capacity we have as people to bring goodness back to a world that can sometimes be clouded with darkness.”
Hill didn’t hesitate to cast four young performers in lead roles, though it is the first time TNB has featured youth in its main holiday production.
“It was a full day and a half of auditions,” recalls Hill. “I was just blown away by the quality of the young actors. The four young people selected for these roles are just absolutely exceptional.”
Hill says the young performers – Carter Scott, Elena Hrkalovic, Sasha Mais, along with Ben Rutter — have great “actor instincts, great technique” and “absolutely hold their own at the centre of this piece.” She believes their presence is inspiring the older members of “rise to that level of honesty, integrity, and authenticity.”
“It reflects so positively on what is clearly a rich tradition of arts education and arts participation in this province,” says Hill. “It’s absolutely inspiring. I would say that in my province of Ontario we’ve been striving for this kind of ‘from birth to adulthood’ involvement and participation and it’s absolutely evident that there’s something quite rich and quite valued about the arts in New Brunswick. The tradition of the theatre school at TNB, and also from what I understand throughout the whole province, it has produced some incredible actors and it has produced the four young people who are in this show.”
The young performers are sharing the stage with six impressive adults:
Andy Massingham teaches at Second City and The Humber College School of Comedy and has a long list of acting and directing credits.
Dora-award winning Raven Dauda has also appeared in numerous TV shows, including Suits, Star Trek: Discovery, Designated Survivor, Orphan Black and more.
Qasim Khan is another Dora-award winning cast member with an impressive list of TV appearances, including on shows like Little Mosque, Nikita, and Dan for Mayor.
Allison Basha is originally from Newfoundland, and has studied the arts at Memorial University, Dalhousie University, and earned her masters degree in London, England.
Derek Kwan works in opera, puppetry, clowning, and recently received a Toronto Theatre Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical.
Aslan is played by Jeremiah Sparks, whose lengthy credits include playing the role of Mustafa in the Toronto production of The Lion King.
“We’re really proud of the production,” says Hill. “We really feel there’s something for everyone. It moves so rapidly from moments of touching drama to really hilarious, outrageous comedy to edge of your seat battles. I know that audiences will really enjoy themselves.”
For his part, Rutter says the production is “loads of fun, it’s awesome.”
TNB’s The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe will be at the Fredericton Playhouse December 13 – 15, at Saint John’s Imperial Theatre on December 16, and wraps up at Moncton’s théâtre l’Escaouette on December 19 and 20. You can reserve tickets for any show online here; you can also enter for a chance to win TWO TICKETS to a Moncton performance!
To enter, simply comment below and tell me who you would bring to the show and why. Contest ends at 11:59pm Atlantic time on Sunday, December 16; winner will be notified via this post. Tickets can be for either the December 19 or December 20 performance.