By Mike Keenan
The Magician's Nephew, a world premiere, opened the 2018 Shaw Festival season. I watched it totally enthralled along with 400 elementary students, the cast so strong and the play so magical that there was no noise from the kids for over two hours — except loud cheers and applause at the end.
Equal credit for the play’s success goes to the solid direction by Tim Carroll, the innovative set designed by Douglas Paraschuk, expressive costumes by Jennifer Goodman and lighting by Kevin Lamotte, clever projections by Cameron Davis and inspired sound by Claudio Vena – a real team effort.
Of course, The Magician’s Nephew features dream-like magic as Aslan, the lion, (Kyle Blair) suggests at the outset — “Let’s make Narnia!”
From here on, we explore the fascinating world of make-believe where anything is possible including time and otherworldly travel.
Director Tim Carroll takes the concept and runs with it, his capable design team creating a wonderful experiential setting that attracts children of all ages. The cast wear cleverly designed animal masks that children in the audience readily buy into and the sparse set is occupied by Douglas Parashuck’s cardboard boxes. The cast adroitly stack and unstack them to move the setting from one location to another.
So simple, a cardboard box — that any parent will attest to — can keep a child’s imagination active for hours.
We learn that a boy named Digory (Travis Seetoo) and his neighbour Polly (Vanessa Sears) are British “Dream Detectives” and when they explore the attics of their London row houses, they discover Digory’s magician uncle Andrew’s (Steven Sutcliffe) secret abode. He introduces them to his time experiment via brightly coloured rings that propel the children into the Wood Between the Worlds, facilitated by quick lighting changes and Davis’ amazing projections.
Hanging panels are illuminated with images of tall trees augmented by Kevin Lamotte’s greenish hue to indicate a shift of location. An inner circle of see-through panels creates another site for entrance and exits. The children explore the ancient world of Charn, where they encounter Jadis (Deborah Hay) as a witch queen.
In Narnia, Digory and Polly are accompanied by Jadis, Uncle Andrew, a cockney cabbie (Michael Therriault) and his carriage horse (Matt Nethersole).
Seetoo and Sears are excellent in their childish depictions, but it’s Blair’s Aslan who breathes a new world into being. I’m guessing that children might not fathom the implication of his military uniform underneath his mane. I had difficulty associating Hay as a nasty witch, but she carries it off. Sutcliffe almost steals the show with his gosh-shucks Captain Hook-like underhandedness, but he is suitably reproached in the end.
Shaw bills this prequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as an “enchanting trip to Narnia” and “the must-see family show of the year.”
I think it’s the perfect vehicle for grandparents who might like to introduce grandchildren to theatre. They will love Sutcliffe as uncle Andrew and the clever masks worn by the cast. Shaw technicians perform absolute magic with the meagre setting and the cardboard boxes that occupy the set.
Prior to all matinees, there’s an actor-led children’s workshop from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Court House, 26 Queen St (3rd floor) for a mere $5 with a ticket to the performance.
The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis, adapted by Michael O’Brien, directed by Tim Carroll, plays until October 13 at the Shaw Festival Theatre, 10 Queen’s Parade, Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Tickets can be purchased at, shawfest.com or by calling the box office at 1-800-511-7429.
Mike Keenan is a NOTL resident who writes poetry, humour, travel, performing arts pieces and podcasts, all of which are available on his website at, whattravelwriterssay.com. Keenan has been published in newspapers and magazines throughout North America.