For C.S. Lewis‘ characters, Narnia only comes by invitation. To come and be part of this purgatorial paradise has always been a hopeful promise for his characters; that when one leaves for good, a reader can’t help not to weep.
But Lewis’ readers and fans can go back to Narnia any time. In our shelves, we can always choose to open the pages, and travel back to The Lion’s Land. In Narnia, we experience great magic, defy the insatiable Snow Queen, make friends with interesting creatures,and win each final battle over and over again.
In the Philippines, Filipino theater audiences first traveled back to Narnia seventeen years ago when Trumpets opened the doors to Aslan’s Kingdom in THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE. This much-acclaimed production stayed in our hearts. For the first time, we had traveled through stage lights and sets, and saw experience how Narnia could bring the promise of hope and renewal. But like Lucy, Edmund, Peter and Susan who eventually went back to the real world, Filipinos moved on and Narnia (on stage) soon became just a distant, jolly memory.
This year, Trumpets paves a new road to Narnia. During the press night of Luna Griño-Inocian‘s original adaptation of THE HORSE AND HIS BOY, most have described the experience as an epic ride. But describing this production of Lewis’ fifth chronicle as an “epic ride” is an understatement. For two and a half hours, this original stage adaptation goes beyond ambition and achieves amazing feats by offering live fantasy that only Narnia can give.
It’s not just epic. It is magical.
THE HORSE AND HIS BOY tells the story of the orphan Shasta as he travels from Calormen to Narnia to escape his abusive adoptive father. He joins the Narnian horse named Bree, and along the way meets Aravin, a princess in disguise, and Kwin her dutiful Narnian mare. As they continue their adventures, they take part in a great battle and eventually find their true selves.
Worthy to mention, too, is Otto Hernandez’ captivating puppetry. Audiences grasp when Bree (the horse) first enters the scene, clacking his hoofs so believably on stage. Here, Hernandez offers a new experience in Philippine puppetry. It is reminiscent of Royal National Theatre‘s 2007 production of Nick Stradford’s THE WAR HORSE, however this time, we get to see its puppeteers to develop its characters further.
Dexter Santos‘ original movement and choreography gives life to Lewis war-filled world. Even with the limitations of the four corners of the Meralco platform, Santos’ movements give off a strong depiction of the harsh and terrible forces of war.
At first sight, the stage’s pre-set looks bare and a bit unwelcoming. The first few scenes in Calormen were dry and lifeless, that I begin to wonder how the battles will be staged; much more the Narnia scenes. But as the narrative progresses, Mio Infante’s magic flourishes – giving us much more than what we expected. Each scene is a surprise; each block a stunning treat. Here, we can finally say that we have truly returned to the beautiful, deep, and wild Narnia . What’s good to note, too, is how Infante polarizes his compositions between the two opposing kingdoms; from the insatiable Moors to the freedom-loving Narnians, he divides each’s colors and forms with guarded measures, yet still unifies everything into a total visual delight.
John Batalla controls the lights with calculated precisions, effectively presenting a feast of neons and shadows in this sweeping adaptation. In one scene, Aravis goes to the stables to talk to Bree and Kwin about Rabadash’s planned attack on Narnia. Here, Batalla playfully casts ceilinged shadows of horses and of Aravis on the backdrop. This somewhat offers a dual perspective on stage: (1) the actual images and, (2) the massive silhouettes. In this scene, we get a feel of secrecy, of silences and of hushed confidences though a spellbinding play of lights as it marries with its own moving absence.
Above all, for someone who specializes in Literature, what makes this production most compelling is Griño-Inocian’s interpretation of a classic Narnia story. Her two-hour narrative is as fascinating as its source, and most gracious in its faithfulness. Shasta’s story translates well on the stage as Griño-Inocian translates Lewis’ tale, even by giving a glimpse of what Guerin, et. al calls the “reiterative” and “repetitive” forms common in our classic literatures for the young (2009). As it goes further, this adaptation doesn’t miss the depth of Narnia’s soul through it language and character developments. Giño-Inocian may have had gone through considerable pains to transform Lewis’ novel to a script, but she delivers so creatively. With great story-telling, this material adaptation is, arguably, one of those that you can sit through and grasp in one sitting
Joel Trinidad proves himself as a true actor and puppeteer as the Narnian-horse Bree. He creatively controls his movements and depicts an almost-believable “creature” that is a horse ( Bree wouldn’t want to be called “beast”). In his initial scenes in Calormen, Trinidad’s voice echoes so magically on stage, that foreshadows a fantastical promise of the place called Narnia. Edrei Tan, who controls Bree’s rear and tail is silent and unassuming, yet his presence completes the totality of the Bree’s magic on stage. Jill Peña, as the talking hare Hwin, is at par with Trinidad’s charm. Her voice looms as incredibly as Trinidad, however this time, offering a more feminine counterpart. Chesko Rodriguez, Kwin’s rear and tail, sychronizes so conveniently as Tan. In Rodriguez, I notice accounted stage discipline, as he transforms into a character of limited space and movement. But here, he still manages to deliver a matching support for his head puppeteer (Peña) to offer Kwin’s character her believable totality.
Reb Atadero is the Shasta that we know from our childhood tales. He is the innocent, ever-trusting young man who is in search for who he really is. Atadero manages the Meralco stage all by himself with unquestionable confidence and magnifying presence. Shasta is the silent, submissive, accidental hero in this tale, and Atadero delivers so wonderfully. Cara Barredo plays the young noble woman Aravis with amazing conviction. She is brave, hard-headed, and sometimes self-absorbed princess who only thinks of herself. Barredo interprets Aravin’s character so beautifully that you cry with her when she realizes her sins and repents.
Mako Alonzo‘s Rabadash presents the stubborn young prince of our young tales. As Rabadash, he delivers an amazing performance of a prince blinded by his insatiable greed for power. I saw the show twice (first from center orchestra, and the next from center lodge) and it is great to note how Alonzo’s villainous energy reaches out even to the farthest seat. I’m looking forward to seeing Mako in future productions. He is starting to prove his versatility as an actor. Arya Herrera as Aravin’s friend Lasaraleen is, arguably, a showstopper. Herrera delivers the loud, vain, yet still the trustful confidant with heartfelt delight, that even the audience can’t help not to applaud and cheer whenever she closes her scenes. As always, Jeremy Domingo is still as lovable, since I last saw him in Repertory’s RUN FOR YOUR WIFE. However, this time, he is wonderfully serene, loving, controlled, yet ultimately powerful as Aslan! In his mildness and serenity, Domingo presents the Aslan that we know. Like Trinidad and Peña, he direct’s Aslan’s puppet with mindful control, and he pairs it with his booming voice to depict the mysterious, yet loving Supreme Being of Narnia.
The Chronicles of Narnia is a collection of classic tales that offers more than entertainment and delight. Deep within its pages, we see deeper themes and gospels about who we are and why we need someone like Aslan. In Lewis’ tales, we discover the magic of folklores and the truth behind each fantasy. Shasta, as the accidental hero, begins an unlikely journey, all of us might be familiar with. But still, we continue to move forward to see the promises ahead. Like Shasta, we begin to realize that triumph only comes when we embrace our beings and find true friends. In Aravin, we learn that selfishness always comes with a consequence, and in Bree, we understand that our misfortunes are but temporary trials and that hope still prevails.
This production brings back to life these promises by C.S. Lewis, and much more. It whispers our need to go back to our first love and rekindle our forgotten devotions. Above all, it also delivers the same magic and delight of reading a book about that faraway Lion’s land to bring, not just entertainment but also, a reminder to look back and see how we can make better of the heroes in all of us.
If this, in itself, is not magical, I don’t know what is.
To God be the Glory!
Photos by Mr. Erickson dela Cruz