Narnia comes alive in Leeds
An iconic British story of love overcoming the evil of the world has been brought to life in spectacular fashion in Leeds.
The Narnia Experience is a community theatre production in an atmospheric former church involving hundreds of volunteers that transports audiences into the winter world of Narnia.
Based on the CS Lewis story of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
(fittingly in the year marking the 50th anniversary of the author’s death) it is a fully interactive production. Audiences are immersed into the world of Narnia firstly through a 1940s train station and then the iconic wardrobe, before either following Lucy or Edmund and meeting the White Witch, the beavers, Mr Tumnus, and of course, Aslan.
Such is its popularity the Narnia Experience has been running throughout the day at the Left Bank Leeds, with 12 teams of actors, to sell out audiences since the last week of November. When it finishes on Sunday (8 December) more than 5,000 people will have seen it across 166 performances. It has received excellent reviews and feedback, and been featured in the regional TV news, radio and local press.
‘It has been extremely well received and has genuinely exceeded all expectations,’ said Baptist minister Simon Hall, programme manager at Left Bank and one of the many volunteer performers.
Though a coming together of hundreds of people, the Narnia Experience has a core Baptist involvement. Simon leads Revive, an early example of a Fresh Expressions-style Baptist church in a bohemian area of Leeds.
Left Bank Leeds is a charity that has taken on the care of a disused but breathtaking former Anglican church, St Margaret of Antioch, with a vision of becoming ‘a centre for arts and culture, for new thought and new ideas, friendly and full of life’. The planning group for Left Bank includes many members of Revive, and the Narnia Experience was an idea that came out from this planning group, said Simon, taking inspiration from a previous promenade theatre (where there is no formal stage) performance at Left Bank and a similar Narnia production in Liverpool.
As well as delighting audiences, it has drawn together hundreds of volunteers, many working alongside each other for the first time. It features 144 performers, 60 costumed ushers and about 200 construction workers, costumiers and set designers.
‘People who love theatre and love Aslan have just worked really well together,’ said Simon. ‘It’s been a great picture of the body of Christ, each person doing what they are made to do, and it doing it with great joy. Everything that we needed has been provided.’
‘It has genuinely exceeded all expectations. I thought the children would be cynical, but I’ve been completely proved wrong,’ he added.
‘There not just watching the performance, they’re absolutely engaged with it. There’s horror at Aslan’s death, and we are not explicit but when you see them realize we are talking about Jesus, it’s very special.’