- Title: Prince Caspian
- Adapted for the stage by: Damien Atkins
- Based on the novel by: C.S. Lewis
- Director: Molly Atkinson
- Actors: Kiana Woo, Kyle Blair, Marla McLean, Andrew Lawrie
- Company: Shaw Festival
- Venue: Royal George Theatre
- City: Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.
- Year: Runs to Oct. 8
When the Pevensie children are suddenly transported back to Narnia at the beginning of Prince Caspian, only a year has passed in their lives in England since their last visit – but over 1,000 years of history have taken place in the magical land that they once ruled as kings and queens.
It’s not that difficult to relate to their experience, really. While it’s only been four human years since the Shaw Festival last staged a theatrical adaptation of one of C.S. Lewis’ seven classic children-oriented chronicles of Narnia (originally published between 1950 and 1956), owing to the pandemic, it feels as if roughly a millennium has gone by since The Horse and His Boy was seen in the Festival Theatre in 2019.
So, I, for one, appreciated all the recapping that kicks off Prince Caspian – as adapted with eloquence by playwright Damien Atkins, and staged with vigour by Molly Atkinson in a jam-packed production currently on at the more intimate Royal George Theatre. Up to a point, anyway.
The Doctor (Fiona Byrne), who is half-human and half-dwarf, is the first narrator of the show. She speaks directly to the audience, noting sagely that going to the theatre is not unlike walking through a wardrobe into another fantastical dimension.
The next narrator is a dwarf named Trumpkin (Shane Carty) who fills in the four Pevensie siblings Peter (Kyle Blair), Susan (Marla McLean), Lucy (Kiana Woo) and Edmund (Andrew Lawrie) on everything that has take place in the realm of the great Aslan the Lion since the events of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, after they are suddenly summoned to the ruins of their old castle.
To briefly sum up Trumpkin’s summary: A group of humans known as the Telmarines conquered Narnia centuries ago – and all of its magical creatures fled into a forest.
Prince Caspian (Michael Man), a relatively nice Telmarine set to be the 10th king in his line, might have been open to giving the land back to its original caretakers when crowned – but his evil uncle Mraz (Sanjay Talwar) attempted to murder him and he has now gone into exile in the forest as well.
The young prince is now about to lead an army of so-called Old Narnians in rebellion to Mraz. These include a badger named Trufflehunter (Patty Jamieson), a centaur named Glenstorm (Qasim Khan) and a feisty French mouse named Reepicheep (Jade Repeta) to name only a few.
While Atkins attempts to make all this backstory and the character introductions feel alive on stage, there’s still an awful lot of exposition to get through. The whole first act of the play feels like a series of prologues.
After intermission, however, Prince Caspian’s plot really takes off in the present tense as the battle between the Old Narnians and the Telmarines truly begins. There are only 11 actors in Atkinson’s production but you might think there are many more in this succession of sword fights because of all the quick costume changes.
Designer Cory Sincennes has created some fun and fresh outfits for the Narnian talking animals and mythical creatures, and the ones with mechanical elements are particularly delightful. The centaur, for instance, fights not only with a spear, but with his hind legs – and the young matinee audience I saw the show with burst into spontaneous cheers when he kicked the Mraz out of a couple of evil faceless knights.
But what of the Pevensie children? Well, Peter, Susan, Lucy and Edmund spend much of the second act trying to find their way to the front to help out Caspian and his crew.
Lucy sees Aslan the Lion (Khan again in another beautiful semimechanical costume) leading them to where they need to go, but her siblings do not and refuse to listen to her – and so they all end up lost.
The Christian allegory in this storyline, with Aslan as the Jesus figure, is entirely clear, but there are also elements that seem in tune with the modern mantra about the need to #BelieveWomen (and, of course, #BelieveGirls). The parallels between Lewis’s postwar Anglicanism and the contemporary social justice movement are intriguing.
Woo, as Lucy, gives Prince Caspian’s central performance, a strong one showing how she grows up and learns to assert herself without losing her ability to tune in to the magic of Narnia.
The more than a dozen other characters in this play adaptation have weaker character arcs, however – or none at all, and simply play their roles as good or evil in this dimly lit, dark chapter of the saga. (I was grateful for the levity supplied by Lawrie and Repeta in their roles – and uncertain why everyone else was so relentlessly serious about everything and sporting British accents to boot.)
Prince Caspian seems a strange story staged in isolation; the book frequently ranks among readers’ least favourite, perhaps because of the deep disconnect between the children’s narrative and the story of Prince Caspian. It’s a direct sequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and enough time has passed since Shaw Festival artistic director Tim Carroll staged a version of that – at the Stratford Festival in 2016 – that it’s surprising the company did not reboot with that popular chapter to save on some of the recapping.