Review: “The Horse and His Boy” at the Logos Theatre
Review by Daughter of the King (Dot)
The Logos Theatre has once again delivered a beautiful version of a Narnia story to the stage with the premiere of their version of The Horse and His Boy.
During a special session with a few fans during the intermission as well as after the show, Douglas Gresham (stepson of C.S. Lewis) stated that Nicole Stratton (who wrote, directed, and played Aravis’ stepmother) was one of two people he’s not afraid to get a script from. It is easy to see why. Although there were a few obvious technical hiccups and pacing issues, it was clear from the very beginning that this version of The Horse and His Boy was created by people who love the books just as much as other fans.
The play opens with a prologue covering Shasta’s (Isaiah Johnson) backstory. Although some fans may find it controversial to start with a part of the story that is told later in the book, the decision works very well on stage. The tension begins almost immediately as the Centaur (Matthew Hainsworth) gives the prophecy of Shasta one day saving Archenland. King Lune (Joe Butler) and the queen (Haleigh Henegan) are visibly distraught, and that continues after Lord Barr (Justin Swain) kidnaps Shasta. The battle on the ship is one of the technical highlights of the show with the Archenlanders swinging onto the stage on ropes. It is also one of the emotional highlights as Butler gave a cry of despair and ripped his crown from his head when he realized his son was nowhere to be found.
A recurring theme in the book is storytelling, and during an interview after the show Nicole Stratton said she wanted to use that in her version. As characters tell stories of what happened to them previously, the set pieces move around them and the audience is shown both the story as it is happening and the other characters the story is being told to. In some cases, this works very well. Aravis’ (Hope Barr) backstory was particularly poignant as she moved back and forth from interacting with Bree (voiced by Micah Hamilton), Hwin (voiced by Sheri Chavers), and Shasta, and interacting with other characters. This format was executed well during the emotionally fraught moments, such as Aravis’ attempted suicide. It was also used well for comedic effect when she describes her suitor, the Vizier Ahoshta (Eli Ramsour), to Bree and Shasta, and then the scene immediately cuts to Aravis’ father (Craig Stouffer) reacting to her saying the exact same thing at a party.
This format unfortunately led to some of the technical fumbles. Because of the many moving pieces, the transitions were not always smooth and occasionally distracting. However, live theater often leads to technical mistakes early on and the longer the play runs the smoother these scenes should go.
One of the best uses of the storytelling format was when Corin (Ethan Gueck) explained to Shasta where he had been. Corin knocked down and was knocked down by Calormenes all over the stage even though the set pieces never changed from the Narnians’ suite in Tashbaan. They even used props from around the room as part of the action. The audience laughed loudly throughout the entire sequence.
Many of the other comedy-filled moments of course involved Lasaraleen (Leah Udinski). At times it felt like the character had simply walked off the page of the book onto the stage. Her introduction also involved one of the better uses of special effects in the show: when Aravis joins Lasaraleen on the litter. Every time Aravis closed the curtain, the light and sound of the crowd in Tashbaan stopped, and a spotlight shone inside the litter on the conversation taking place there. Then, every time Lasaraleen opened the curtain, the light and sound returned. That sort of moment requires a lot of coordination to get right, and everyone involved executed it perfectly.
Another great performance was delivered by Rabadash (Jeremiah Johnson). He is awfully evil and was another character that felt like they had just walked off the page. After playing Peter for several years in the Logos productions of previous Narnia plays, Jeremiah Johnson embraced the role of the villain whole-heartedly. Although he did mention during an interview that he found it “kind of draining to be evil that long”.
Even though the overall play should please any theatergoer and Narnia fan alike, there were a few scenes that may disappoint book fans. One example is the adaptation of the chapter in the book titled The Unwelcome Fellow Traveler. Much of the scene is well done, as fog obscured a great deal of the stage and Isaiah Johnson balanced very well Shasta’s self-pity and awe about Aslan’s (voiced by Nicky Chavers) influence in his life. However, Aslan and Shasta do not at any point meet face-to-face. In the book, Shasta sees Aslan at the very end of their conversation, but in the play Aslan remains hidden in the fog throughout the entire scene.
Another scene that fell flat is the final one. After the wedding of an older Shasta (Cooper Beer), now in his rightful place as Prince Cor, to an older Aravis (Haleigh Henegan), King Edmund (Noah Stratton) tells Queen Susan (Tome Cox) that King Peter (Stephen Bjorkman) has called them back to Narnia to hunt the White Stag. It is an unnecessary tie-in to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe that takes away the focus from the title characters.
Not all of the changes from the book missed the mark though. In the book, when the main characters are sneaking into Tashbaan, Bree is the one to remind Aravis to pretend she has been beaten and called names all her life. In the play, Shasta is the one to deliver this line and it works splendidly. It is the first time Aravis realizes just what sort of life Shasta has led, and is the start of visible changes in how she treats him.
Another change from the book that works well is a scene near the beginning where a cat comforts a young Shasta (Brinton Stratton). Narnia fans will know the significance of the cat puppet appearing, while other audience members will get a glimpse of Aslan’s influence on Shasta’s life early on in the play even if they may not know the importance of the cat just yet.
One of the greatest parts of the play is undoubtedly the puppets. All of the puppets are extraordinary, but the horses are the true highlight of the show. They are just as good, if not even better, than any puppet on Broadway or the West End. The Destrier puppet used in Logos’ version of Prince Caspian was amazing, but the puppet team (lead by puppet designer Justin Swain, technical director Ken Hines, sculptor Harrell Whittington, and puppet apprentice Isaiah Johnson) outdid themselves in creating even better horse puppets to bring Bree and Hwin to life.
All of the puppeteers deserve a great deal of praise, as not only are the horses incredibly heavy to operate, but they are also rideable, and not just for a few seconds. Aravis and Shasta spend several scenes on horseback with the horses moving very quickly both in place and around the stage. The puppeteers also spent time studying the way real horses move and learning how to move the puppets in similar gaits. The stand-out of the puppet team is Hwin’s lead puppeteer Katrina McMindes. Her face and body moved with the puppet as though she herself was Hwin and not merely someone in charge of moving a prop.
The Logos Theatre’s version of The Horse and His Boy is without a doubt worth the trip to Taylors, SC. Despite a few issues that might pull the audience out of the moment, the experience is not to be missed. Anyone who loves Narnia should love this play because it is produced by fans who love the books just as much.
The Horse and His Boy runs March 1-April 27 this spring. A second run has been announced for July 13-August 3. Tickets are available at https://thelogostheatre.com
Rilian, Glumpuddle, and Dot also recorded a special YouTube-only video review where they talked about some of their favorite parts of the play. View it here:
Before she became a NarniaWeb moderator in General Movie Discussion, Dot studied theater and film and regularly wrote critical reviews of stage performances for her college newspaper.
UPDATE: The Logos Theatre has uploaded 78 images from the play. View them here.