Recreating C. S. Lewis’ eternal winter of Narnia in the literary classic, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, during spring time in Switzerland, is no small feat, but for the talented cast and crew of The International School of Lausanne’s production of the play, it was a challenge met with passion, commitment, and creativity. The play was performed over two nights, and for those fortunate enough to catch at least one of the shows, it truly was a magical experience. Read on to discover the story behind the production, and for the image gallery and video of the play.

If you read C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia as a child, then you will know how certain ordinary objects will have ever since been infused with a kind of magic; for anyone who read the first novel (in publication order; chronologically, it is the second) in the series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, some of those objects are ornate wooden wardrobes, old-fashioned iron lamp posts, and – of course – icing-sugar-dusted squares of Turkish Delight.

The novel tells the story of the Pevensie brothers and sisters – Peter, Lucy, Edmund, and Lucy, the youngest – who are evacuated during the Blitz to live in the country house of the (wonderfully) brusque and blunt Professor Digory Kirke – perhaps best remembered for this engaging castigation of the British school system:

“Logic!” said the Professor half to himself. “Why don’t they teach logic at these schools?”

Left to their own devices by the Professor, the children play in the summer sun in the grounds of his home – till one rainy day drives them back inside, and to a fateful game of hide-and-seek.

Discovering an enormous wardrobe in one of the rooms, Lucy steps inside, squeezing her way to the back through the ancient fur coats hanging inside; when, instead of reaching a wooden wall, she finds herself brushing past spiky pine trees, and treading on softly crunching snow.

And thus, the children’s adventures in the fantastical world of Narnia begins…

Back in the Spring semester of the International School of Lausanne, recreating the ethereal magic of Narnia, where the White Witch has cast a spell so that it “is always Winter – always winter, but it never gets to Christmas” – posed a challenge for the play’s director, Mr Wallace (Year 11 Level Leader, Teacher of English & Drama, SSST Coordinator), and his talented production team, but one they rose to remarkably.

It was Mr Nobs (Head of the Arts Department, Teacher of Visual Arts) who was assigned perhaps the most daunting creative task: designing and building the mask of the mythical lion, Aslan. The production team initially investigated bringing Aslan to life as a digitally animated puppet which could interact with the actors as a projected asset; however, they ultimately decided to use the acting talent they had, and create a physical Aslan.

“We tried all sorts of ways to do this – a large puppet operated by actors to ‘act’ alongside the main voice actor – but in the end, the idea of a magnificent ‘alter ego’ for the character, built into the costume, seemed to offer the best solution.” – Mr Nobs.

The demands of the International School of Lausanne’s performance of ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ required a large and committed production team, credited and thanked here on the programme.

To make Aslan, Mr Nobs sculpted the lion’s head digitally on an iPad, then used ISL’s 3D printing facilities to provide a physical reference from which to carve the full-sized head from a block of polystyrene. The head was then hollowed, and the eyes made from painted polystyrene balls covered with clear plastic hemispheres to create the shiny hemispheres. It was then painted, and Aslan’s mane was created from strips of foam, sprayed to match the head. The mask was then attached to a simple rig based on ice hockey shoulder protection, which could be strapped to the actor’s body.

“Rowen, who played Aslan, was amazing, and endured quite a lot of discomfort without complaining once,” recalls Mr Nobs.

The final head and rig was then given to the talented Veronique Hodari (Costume Design, Artistic Support), who did a wonderful job integrating it into a magnificent gold costume that, together with Rowan’s calm and stately performance, ensured that Aslan had a truly regal quality.

The design process: from Mr Nobs’ preliminary sketches through to the dress rehearsal and, finally, Rowen (Year 9) in full costume and make-up backstage before the first performance.

As the performers worked towards opening night, Mr Capes (Lighting, Sound and “Technical Wizardry”, to quote Mr Wallace) and the International School of Lausanne’s Auditorium Tech and Backstage Team perfected the sound and lighting essential to creating an other-worldly atmosphere. However, for Victor (Video Technician, Year 12), one of the highlights of the performance itself was the transformation in the actors from the rehearsals to when acting in front of an audience:

“The actors brought so much more sincerity to their roles compared to in the rehearsals, when they would often break character and laugh. All of them improved considerably in their vocalisations and movements.”

The play opened on a balmy May evening, the sun still high in the sky as the audience began to fill the International School of Lausanne’s state-of-the-art auditorium. However, just as Lucy Pevensie steps through the wardrobe from the world of an English summertime, into the land of perpetual winter, so the audience were soon transported from the golden Swiss evening, to a dreamy fantastical setting infused in cool hues of white, silver, violet and blue.

As anticipation built in the auditorium, backstage the buzz mounted as the excited cast, in full make-up and costume, waited eagerly for their entrance.

“I think that the show made us all closer, and it was a really great community to be in. My personal highlight was our first performance on Wednesday night because we were all so nervous, and we were encouraging each other before we went on stage.” (Piper / Mrs Beaver – Year 7)

However, despite the nervousness of the young cast, from the moment the lights rose on the play’s opening scene – the four Pevensie siblings, in their charmingly quaint 1940s garb, sitting cross-legged on the stage floor playing board games – the audience were swept into the world of the play by the combination of the actors’ earnest investment in their characters, and the wonderful sound and lighting.

Apolline (Year 7), was perfectly cast as Lucy, the youngest of the Pevensies, and the novel’s heroine, inhabiting the role with the original character’s winning combination of wide-eyed trustfulness and sharp, intuitive intelligence; as her foil, the second youngest sibling Edmund, Year 7’s Leo brought a brilliant comedic zest to the first part of his performance, bringing the flawed character entertainingly to life with all the exultant over-the-top exuberance of a pantomime villain, before shifting gears into a solemnly ardent drive towards redemption, as he and his siblings, together with Aslan and the virtuous creatures of Narnia, strive to defeat the wicked White Witch and her army.

If Leo infused the initially villainous Edmund with a larky humour, as the White Witch herself, Year 8’s Zoé played the iconic character with a compelling intensity, commanding each scene she was in with striking voice control, and a gleeful glint of evil in her gleaming eyes. Her charisma was undeniable, and one could quite easily see how Edmund was duped by her charming duplicity (not to mention, delicious Turkish Delight).

As her counterpoint, the saintly Aslan, Year 9’s Rowan brought a stately calm, with the sweetly worshipful attitudes of the Pevensies and the woodland creatures of Narnia – Selin (Year 7) and Piper (Year 7) as Mr and Mrs Beaver, and Year 8’s Lia as Mr Tumnus also deserving of particular recognition for their engaging performances – heightening the other-worldly regality of the fabled character.

Ultimately, the play was a resounding success, with both nights’ audiences revelling in the blend of magic, drama, and theatrical humour, and the young cast and crew thoroughly enjoying the experience of being a part of the production:

 “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has been a great way to make everyone come together as members of the ISL community that all have the same passion in order to create something magical. This production has helped make deeper connections between the cast and crew who all worked very hard on this to make the show happen.” (Annabelle / Ensemble – Year 7)

The International School of Lausanne would like to congratulate the cast and crew of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and thank everyone who helped to produce the play, and who came to support it.

The final words, however, must fall to the play’s dedicated director, who brought Lewis’ novel to life with unfailing faith in his young cast, and with consistent calm, courtesy, and encouraging good humour – thank you, Mr Wallace:

“It is a special experience to work with students of performance. The journey that you embark on is unique each time and not without its challenges. The students in all facets of this project were committed and grew so much in a multitude of ways. It was also a true gift to work with such dedicated staff on the creative team. I am exceptionally proud of everyone involved in making Narnia come to life. Their passion and cooperation to the project were certainly the deepest magic of all.”

Watch the film of the production here.

‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ – Performance Gallery

‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ – Behind the Scenes…