This lion is a delight for all ages

The Butterfly Lion

Malvern Theatres

*****

DANIEL Buckroyd’s adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s book The Butterfly Lion is a delight from start to finish.

Buckroyd has done a fantastic job of conveying his own enthusiasm for the work and instilling that same feeling in the audience.

This is a quirky story within a story, with time shifts and geographical relocations which in other hands could be confusing, but which Buckroyd and his cast deliver smoothly and credibly, transporting the audience across decades and continents from moment to moment. Narrators become characters, characters play their younger selves, and from the very start of the play we care about those characters’ lives and how this odd tale will unfold.

Former Children’s Laureate Morpurgo has of course written on the theme of war before - War Horse opens at Birmingham Hippodrome - and this story manages to touch on the horror and brutality of The First World War, whilst retaining an overall positive, uplifting if somewhat wistful mood, making this play suitable for children as well as adults.

With this in mind I did find it a shame that the times of the showings were not better suited for children, with the Wednesday matinée being rather too early for school children at 2.30pm and evening performances slightly too late at 7.30. Catch the Saturday matinée if you have children or grandchildren to take!

The central story follows the life of Bertie, from his lonely childhood in Africa through boarding school and battlefield, and his friendships with Millie and a white lion whose life he saves and swears to protect forever.

AMAZING JOB

Adam Buchanan does an amazing job of playing runaway schoolboy Michael as well as versions of Bertie from toddlerhood to childhood to adulthood, often in the same scene! Gwen Taylor deserves similar praise for her convincing shifts between Millie as a young girl and Millie as an old woman. Or at least that’s what we think she is… Taylor’s stage and television appearances (most famously perhaps in Duty Free and Barbara and more recently in Coronation Street) make her a familiar face to most, and it is lovely to see her on stage clearly enjoying every moment of the production, along with the rest of the cast.

A special commendation must go to Lloyd Notice who is present throughout but somehow only becomes visible when narrating or playing a part and then fades back out of our consciousness when manipulating the rather wonderful puppet that is the white lion.

Notice handles the puppet in a way that really brings it to life, despite its deliberate lack of realism or moving facial features. In one scene we see twenty three year old Buchanan playing nine year old Bertie saying an emotional goodbye to a raggedy lion puppet operated by Notice. It sounds bizarre. It sounds like it shouldn’t work. It does. Somehow we totally believe in this regal white lion. I don’t think I’m the only one who had tears in my eyes.

Clever and moving, magical and sweet, this is a heart-warming show with all the necessary elements of mystery, wonder and surprise. Scene changes are seamless and the bright greens and yellows of the African veld make for a beautiful backdrop.

Music and lighting have been carefully considered and the whole production ties together beautifully. Even the Adonis Blue butterflies which appear at start and end of the play are a wonderful spectacle. My only disappointment is that there were some empty seats in the theatre, which may be down to the timings of the shows. You don’t need children as an excuse to see this play though so book your tickets now. Thoroughly recommended. But don’t forget your hankie. To 19-10-13.

Amy Rainbow

The Butterfly Lion moves on to Nottingham, Glasgow, Richmond and Brighton. 

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