This trip has possibly been the highlight of my 2019 thus far.
Getting myself away from all of my constant DIY projects for my room makeover/organization and treating myself to a solo adventure. I purchase tickets to the play Horse and His Boy, the 5thbook in the Narnia series. A little different then my flight attendant lifestyle posts, but I did use my flight benefits to travel from New Orleans, LA to Taylors, SC.
First, I stopped at my hotel, in the historic James Hotel Inn, to change and get ready for the play. It was a beautiful, and era appropriate, hotel for someone who was seeing a play of books that were published in the 1950’s and nodded to the adventures of children from the 1940’s.
I made my way to venue and found that the performance was sold out and was teeming with about 300 multigenerational fans of the series! We were greeted at the doors to the theater by some of the actors and actresses of the play who were in costumes.
There was a hallway that housed many different props from all three of the Disney and Walden Media movies, including Peter’s sword, Rhindon, the infamous torch that Edmund supposedly left in Narnia, and the paint from which the children enter through to Narnia. The energy was alive there and I really appreciate that these items were available to see up close for such a small ministry.
The Play Experience:
The play was divided into two parts, the intermission being, I think at the most fitting divide. In the book, the appearance of the hermit character is sudden and you later realize that it is of Aslan’s hand to get the children and horses to their destination so Prince Cor/Shasta can fulfill the prophecy that was spoken upon him. Coming back to the play in those moments after the long journey is good, because we as the audience know that they have ended their journey to Archenland and moves us to think of the other part of these character’s journeys.
During the intermission there was a costume contest, there was more walking through the movie props, looking at some of the stage scenery that was on both edges of the stage, and going to the theater’s gift shop, and if you wanted to head to the concession stand or the bathroom. I spoke with some people in the crowd, a couple also from New Orleans, who had two daughters going to school and working for the theater. Good to see both local and out of town people making it to this showing.
Now, my review of the play:
I’ll go over a couple of highlights and a lowlight as well.
I learned that the writer was in close contact with Douglas Gresham, CS Lewis’ grandson and one of the people that the story was dedicated to. On that note, I’ll say a few things about the writing. The attention to detail on how to best adapt the book into a play, how to translate the story best for the stage, this was done by making it linear, and worked wonderfully on stage to help those unfamiliar with the story in the loop from the start. A similar approach as Princes Caspian. We have the beginning of the story(the backstory) at the beginning, the middle, and the end neatly aligned. It worked well for clarity, for working up plotline, and having a clear resolve.
Overall, the execution was well done! And I applaud the writer for her successful attempt at keeping the story following along closely with CS Lewis’ flow. Though I did miss the scene of Shasta drinking from Aslan’s pawprint, a baptism in a way and clarity, as well as a few other scenes.
Aravis Calormene Tarkheena Storytelling:
Rather than having a monologue, they used two palm trees as a stage inside of a stage to set a new short play of the past at told by Aravis. This was very successful in terms of how to best make the Calormene storytelling indeed be something that Bree the horse is so in awe of. I was impressed by the costume changes and the choreography on showing time and place elapsing with the changing of props and set, but still having the small pauses in the progression for a comment from Aravis’ audience and companions to let us know we are still listening to Aravis’ story.
I will quickly say that the changed in her the actual story were noted, and this was something I begrudged a little. Theater lends itself to the dramatic, but I feel like that pulled a Mother Gothel over over how lowly women are viewed in Calormene and the cruelty of the followers of Tash are, even to family.
The costumes were varied a lot between the nations, and I appreciated that. The Archenland and Narnia royals were similar; I would have loved to see something to distinguish just so the viewers could distinguish easier, though I believe there was some repurposing of costumes for other plays. Perhaps a snap or Velcro crest that was different that the Lion which is the nation of Narnia for some of the guards in Archenland. Also, in the books the Penevise’s are giving circlets rather than crowns and I should love to see that to differentiate the Kings and Queens for Archenland’s more traditional look(though I know the book mentions the thin as wire band on Shasta’s head). I imagine the Narnia nation a humble nation with royals who blend royal dress and dress that is a little warlike, rough around the edges, like the wilds they tamed and conquered. Archenland was not in 100 years of winter and had had time to develop a more eloquent style of dress.
The Calormene costumes were a mix of Egyptian, Indian, Pakistani, and other traditional Middle Eastern costuming depending on the person. Things like the dancers were in conservative versions of belly dancing costumes. I was anticipating these elements, as CS Lewis wrote about turbans and veils and glittering fabrics. I had hoped to see more nods to these elements of ethic clothing than simply using the costumes without alteration. I remember the designs of Michelle Copeland that used sheer and flowing fabrics in Game of Thrones for the Dorne women to show they were in a hot climate, but still wearing full dresses with long trains to show their status. Still, I enjoyed the variety and the shine that the sequins/beading/rhinestones did to show off the luxury of the people in higher society of Calormene.
Three characters that were stars on stage were Prince Corin, Lasaraleen, and Bree. They played with the personality and were different than my original thoughts of the character. I fully enjoyed them on stage! Other characters that I remember being gripped by their portrayal was Shata’s father, Hwin, Rabadash, Queen Lucy, young Shasta, The King of Arcanland, The Hermit.
The lighting, scenery, props, the puppeteers and puppets, most of the soundtrack were all way more spectacular that I had hoped for in a production of this size! This was the crowning glory of this show, so much so that I purchased a backstage pass to go and listen to some more information that was being presented, even though it was mostly useless to me in terms of overall experience. The use of lighting and movement when Aravis and Lasaraleen spoke behind the curtain was ingenious as was the running and walking scenes on the turntable for the horses.
The ending. I was most disappointed with the choice on what to use for the ending of the play. The scene is as such:
A dimly lit, undisclosed corridor. A young woman dressed in queen’s clothing staring out longingly. A young man, also dressed in royal clothing approaches. There are words exchanged. The young queen, we find out is Queen Susan Pevensie, laments over her sorrows of missing England and her mother. The young man, King Edmund, consoles her telling her that High King Peter is coming home and of the White Stag Hunt that were going off to have. They rush off scene and the play ends.
My heart sunk. Not because I knew what was going to happen on that hunt, but because there was SO many things done wrong here! The timeline, the display of Susan’s unhappiness(to an otherwise joyous scene moments ago), the fact that the Penvensie’s could vividly seem to recall their lives in England despite having to been ruling for 15 years that is point, the fact that 15 years of reign and prosperity under Aslan was still overshadowed by the thought of a war torn world during WWII with rations, inequality for man and women and so many other injustices in regards to what Susan felt. I believe that slipping out of the wardrobe was not by accident, it was Aslan’s doings. He knew the Pevensie’s couldn’t stay in the Shadowlands forever; they had to return to their world to know him there after righting the state of Narnia. I could write a book about the depth of this topic, but I won’t. I was just OVERLY disappointed.
But why was this ending chosen with the Pevensie’s? I asked about this backstage, and was told that they wanted to tie in the Penvesie’s story at the end. That this story was about their rule in Narnia. I couldn’t agree least. This story wasn’t written to show us about the Golden Age of the Pevensie’s, though it did include them. It was titled Horse and His Boy, not “The Golden Age Chronicles: The Horse and His Boy” or “The Great Battle of Anvar: Love, Lost, and Betrayal” or even “How the Kings and Queens of Old Found the Lost Prince of Archenland.” CS Lewis wrote HHB as a story of adventure for Shasta(Prince Cor) and Avaris, about finding one’s self, but not letting what rank or religion denote you as who you are and who you should become. It is about finding Aslan’s path for you and finding him along the way. It is about how Aslan accepts and has a hand in all of our lives, even if our faith is not originally following him, like Aravis coming from high in society as a follower of Tash to knowing the Great Lion’s place for her.
I think I’ll leave it as that.
Despite the smaller scale, this play was at equal caliber in heart, puppets, and dedication as any on Broadway! My hope is to be able to get over to South Carolina again and see more shows from this theater.