Killer Queens – guaranteed to blow your mind!

Dynamite with a laser beam.....
Dynamite with a laser beam…..Anne Carter and Shely Ganguly, two Queens of Narnia start a new singing career….

Well, that’s it. We’ve been killed by the mightly Aslan, some of us more times than we care to remember, never to darken the wardrobe doors of Narnia again. What’s a Queen to do when she’s no longer a queen? We could always renounce our evil ways and take up singing….

Yes, queenly singing in Left Bank Leeds, the very place where it was always winter and never Christmas for a couple of weeks last year. There were more than 160 cast members for The Narnia Experience, with queens, fauns, wolves, dwarves and humans acting in shifts all day every day for two weeks. I was queen for a few days as well as playing the part of the wolf in this fantastic production and hit it off quite well with my fellow royalty.

So when it was time to be killed once and for all, we were gutted, though we confessed none of us would miss hitting that cold, stone floor at Aslan’s roar, nor the shouts of ‘die, witch die’ from eight-year-olds who thought the whole death scene was rather fun.

One of our fellow cast members Joelle Braithwaite, a Mrs McCready turned out to be not only a music-lover, but a music teacher, so with a bit of persuasion and promises that she wouldn’t be turned to stone by the queens, eaten by the wolf, or made to eat flavourless poached fish and boiled potatoes by Mr and Mrs Beaver, she agreed to set up a community choir for ex Narnians and anyone else interested in singing.

Last night was our first get-together. Many voices and many tunes in the place that was Narnia but has reverted to the grand old gutted church in Cardigan Road, Leeds. Fabulous acoustics, but it was bloomin’ freezing. Even the former ice queens had to wrap themselves in blankets, though I’d swapped my crown for my bobble hat, which was toasty!

Joelle was fantastic, introducing us to songs from around the world, including a Maori lullaby from her native Australia. I haven’t sung so much since my choir days and when I got home, I made sure Noel gave me a good listening to. I think he was impressed….

We’re looking to perform something somewhere in the spring. In the meantime, the queenly choir continues to make music every fortnight.

 

Maugrim’s stuck in the toilet, repeat, Maugrim’s stuck in the toilet….

Doing the White Witchy wand-pointing thing with Ginnabrik, by trusty henchman
Doing the White Witchy wand-pointing thing with Ginnabrik, my trusty henchman

I’d done a whole morning of White Witchy evilness, strutting around, shouting and spell-casting, turning folk to stone and sticking my wand up the nose of a particularly petulant kid and then getting killed by that pesky lion, four times. It was hard work, but I was prepared for more as I took off the crown and queenly robes and turned into Maugrim, chief wolf and evil henchman of said Queen of Narnia.

I’d offered to play the part of the wolf for a session in The Narnia Experience as they were a bit short of baddies. Performances roll one after the other, with a procession of audiences going through every 45 minutes, so there’s a quick turnaround with no time for a cup of tea and slice of cake, not that witches and wolves eat that sort of thing.

Tea and cake I can do without, but four hours without a comfort break, well even a wolf has to go some time and behind the Talking Trees isn’t an option.  Maugrim’s costume takes a bit of getting in and out of, but when nature calls, there has to be an answer, or, well let’s not go there, eh?

So at what seemed like a reasonable point before the next group was due, I made my dash out of Narnia, through the wardrobe to the world of humans and blessed relief. But the pesky humans arrived early and I came out of the cubicle to find the stage manager whispering loudly into her headset. “Maugrim’s stuck in the toilet, repeat, Maugrim’s stuck in the toilet!”

What’s a wolf to do? The very humans I was meant to growl at and scare to within an inch of their wits were there, I couldn’t let them see me. But I had to go back to Narnia. Fortunately, stage managers have special powers and the children were frozen in time as I went back to the land where it was always winter and never Christmas.

One more White Witch session my time in Narnia is done. Today I actually made a child cry and I didn’t even pick on him. He had to leave and was never seen again, that’s what being a baddie’s all about. What terror will I wreak on the Sunday audience? Mwa ha ha

The Taun Fumnus and a forgotten top

Sporty Queen of Narnia
Sporty Queen of Narnia

Corpsing. It happens to the most experienced actors, so why shouldn’t it happen to those of us who are new to it all? That split second when the steely stare of the Queen of Narnia blinks and the stern set lip twitches into a smirk. Fortunately I bit the inside of my cheeks until they almost bled, which stopped the emerging guffaw in its tracks, but it was a close thing.

There I was, sitting in my sledge, scaring snotty little Edmund Pevensie half to death with threats and queenly  exclamations and telling my good and faithful wolf servant Maugrim to go and do something evil, when he responded with a Spoonerism.

Looking me in the eye, the growling wolf declared he would search for the Taun Fumnus, as opposed to the Faun Tumnus. How funny was that? At that moment, it was the funniest thing I had ever heard in my entire life. A Taun? <snigger> A Taun called Fumnus? <ha ha ha>. There was a pregnant pause as my chuckle muscles prepared for action, I could feel them quivering and twitching. I wanted to burst into a great big belly laugh, roll over in the sledge and shake my legs in the air, as any self-respecting Queen in robes and furs would do in such circumstances. Maugrim of course was far too professional to snigger, though I did see a flash of amusement cross his muzzle before he growled, presumably to mask his Muttley-like titter.

It was a close thing, but I did manage not to corpse and in hindsight it wan’t that funny, it was just in the moment. But with the sold-out performances of The Narnia Experience starting for real today, I’m taking no risks as I certainly don’t want to let the side of evil down. I’ve fitted a sharp pin to the end of my wand so I can stab myself in the leg if the Taun Fumnus rears his goaty head again. The pain should wipe any smile from my mouth.

Final dress rehearsals went well, though I’d run a nice muddy cross country beforehand and had remembered a complete change of clothes….apart from my white top to go under the witchy dress. So I was Sporty Queen in my fetching and rather sweaty and muddy Eccleshill Road Runners top. I don’t think anyone noticed……

The Manchurian Candidate of Narnia

The Queen's Throne and a box of Turkish Delight.
The Queen’s Throne and a box of Turkish Delight.

It’s getting to the stage where certain words are triggering monologues and wand waving in public, which to be honest, can be a little embarrassing. For everyone.  Take the youngster who was innocently asking the shopkeeper for Turkish Delight.

“Turkish Delight?” I exclaimed in my head, waving my make-believe witch’s wand. “And if you thought I was going to give you Turkish Delight…?” My internal monologue stopped, from the look of the little boy, his mum, the shopkeeper, Noel and the stray dog that had wandered in, that little speech by the White Witch of Narnia wasn’t in my head, it was out loud. Very loud.

I haven’t done any line learning since I played the hapless Hilda in the church production of Spring and Port Wine more than 30 years ago and all I can remember of that was her aversion to fish because she was in the family way. So when I landed a part as the evil witch in The Narnia Experience I was amazed. I went to the auditions thinking I might be a tree, a talking tree of course, so was quite surprised to be chosen as the most evil character in the cast.

Now with three weeks to go until I don the witch’s black wig and pick up the wand for real, I’ve spent many hours of every day telling the cat to ‘Kneel before the Queen of Narnia” and telling Noel to go to the house of Mr and Mrs Beaver and ‘kill whatever you find there’. Neither paid any attention, such is the lot of an actress. I recorded all the parts on my phone, using different voices and play it back as I drive around, it’s worked so well that, like The Manchurian Candidate, whenever I hear a cue, I have to speak my lines, in character. Fortunately I’ve had no inclination to assassinate a politician.

The production is all day every day for two weeks, so there’s a dozen or so of us for each part and we’re all very different. The witch’s coven met on Sunday to share lines, wave a few wands, eat Turkish Delight and compare notes on our approaches. We range in age, size. experience and philosophy, though none of the others would admit to bursting into full witchy character in the sweet shop.

Famed, from Qatar to Lower Cumberworth

Fellow herald Sam outside Mr Tumnus' cave
Fellow herald Sam outside Mr Tumnus’ cave

Dress up in a silly costume, stand in a public place and it’s a sure thing that sooner or later, someone will push their pal to your side, point their cameraphone and within minutes, you’re all over the internet for all to marvel at.

I was a herald for the afternoon, complete with knee-length tabard and jaunty-angled hat. My, I was something to feast the eyes on, in a what-the-heck-is-that kind of way. It was all part of the publicity for The Narnia Experience, Mr Tumnus’ cave had been set up in the shiny new Trinity Centre as part of Leeds Light Night. My job was to be nice to people, which I have to say I’d be very happy to do for a living, if a living could be had from such a thing.

Youngsters and oldsters got to meet Mr and Mrs Beaver, those dam-building reactionaries who want to oust the white witch and bring back Christmas and pipe-playing faun Mr Tumnus who has an unplanned date with a dungeon.

It was fascinating to watch heads turn as passers-by tried to figure out where Santa was and why he wasn’t in his grotto. ‘Ah,’ I told them, with the geekiness of someone who has read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe so many times, I read it in French for a change, ‘while the white witch reigns, it will always be winter and never Christmas’. Some did actually know what I was talking about, which was a relief. Others, especially children, were captivated by the story, or maybe it was just the weird woman with the loud voice in the odd outfit.

I found myself being photographed with a group of young men from Qatar and others from Palestine and Jordan, they had no idea what it was all about, (I know, I asked them!) but what the heck, they’ll have fun explaining that one!

See you in Narnia? It’s at Left Bank, Leeds, from 25 November to 8 December.

I am that witch

Always winter, never Christmas
Always winter, never Christmas

The letter that plopped onto the doormat was unambiguous. You are, it told me, the White Witch. You will, it confirmed, turn people to stone with a flick of your wand. You can, it suggested, cackle hysterically as you scare unsuspecting children out of their wits. You should, it hinted, develop a steely stare that could wither a potted petunia and strut around cockily leaving a great swathe of terrified people in your wake. Oh yes, I can do that, I can definitely do that!

So it’s official, the evil witch who brings permanent winter, with no promise of Christmas to Narnia is me,  or rather I’m one of a coven who will play that part over two weeks in our own probably less snowy winter.

The Narnia Experience isn’t like a theatre performance, it’s more of a journey with the audience led from place to place by the characters. It’s all happening at Left Bank, Leeds, a former church near the City Centre which has been converted into a venue.

Three times a day, every day for those two weeks from the end of November, unsuspecting paying members of the audience will find Narnia through the wardrobe and meet the witch, maybe this witch. Mwa ha ha…. Though unless there’s been a drastic script change to CS Lewis’s classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I fear there’s no happy ending for the witches and that Christmas will come thanks to a lion called Aslan.

In the meantime, it’s about getting into character, learning my lines and maybe seeing if that wand will do its magic on my hit-list. Look our for more statues in Westminster.