Warming to Narnia’s villainous White Witch

SAMANTHA Womack will be familiar to anyone via her many roles on both the big and small screen.

Her varied work on television saw her move from comedy to drama with the cult success of BBC’s Game On and Babes in the Wood to ITV’s gritty crime drama Liverpool 1, then Imogen’s Face – and, of course, Ronnie Mitchell in EastEnders.

Samantha Womack as the White Witch

Her film roles include playing the unhinged mother of Eggsy in The Kingsman franchise sharing the screen with Colin Firth and Samuel L Jackson and playing Hazel in Jon Godber’s Up ‘n Under.

So, it comes as something of a surprise when Samantha says she feels the stage is her natural home.

“The theatre feels to me kinder,” she says as she considers playing the villainous White Witch in director Michael Fentiman’s theatricalisation of the time-honoured CS Lewis novel The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

“If I’m really honest, I’ve learned about myself that I like the creative control,” she explains. “You want to be able to do what you want creatively, and you tend to get that in the theatre.

“The lights go down and it’s you on your own for two hours. I relish that and can find it difficult to hand the work over to someone in TV or film who then plucks it up to be used in the editing suite. I find that soul-destroying.”

Aslan and some of the cast in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

She is relishing her part in Lewis’s immortal story and remembers being enthralled by the tale as a girl before sharing it as an adult with her two children.

“I remember for the first time encountering his very vivid and descriptive world and I certainly recall the feeling of alienation of the refugee children”, says Samantha.

Like the book, the play follows Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter as they wave goodbye to wartime Britain and (via a wardrobe) embark on magical adventures in a frozen, faraway land where they meet a faun, talking beavers, Aslan the lion and the coldest, most evil White Witch.

And the Brighton-born actor has become much more fascinated by the White Witch since playing her on stage.

“What I’ve been able to realise is that the very same character I read as a child and who my children came to interpret later as someone fearsome and icy is in fact coloured with a neurosis and anxiety and unpredictability that I had never understood from the outside,” she explains.

“We’re discovering that place where she’s ugly at the core but that it comes from her own desperate need to survive: the White Witch morphs into whatever the person she’s bullying wants her to be.”

Womack is also enthusiastic about touring the country, explaining: “I’ve spent my life being quite nomadic, and my great great great grandmother was in PT Barnum’s circus at Madison Square Garden. All my family have been musicians or performers in the theatre. If I’m in one place too long, I start to feel quite claustrophobic.”

There is, of course, another advantage theatre has over TV and film – “Rapturous applause,” says Samantha. “I do still like that.”

C.S. Lewis’ classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will run at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking from Tuesday 22 – Saturday 26 March.

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