THE BUTTERFLY LION
by Michael Morpurgo adapted by Daniel Buckroyd.
Tour to 16 November 2013.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
Review: Alan Geary 22 October.
Hugely rewarding fare – in all sorts of ways.
From Michael Morpurgo, the writer of War Horse – his work often explores human-animal relationships and brings in the 1914-18 war – The Butterfly Lion is adapted and directed by Daniel Buckroyd, late of New Perspectives. It might well be one of the high points of Buckroyd’s career thus far.
We’re treated to a good yarn; the play has all the thrust of a great children’s book with pictures. Bullied at boarding school, Michael absconds and finds himself in the home of an old lady. She gives him a cup of tea and tells him a true tale about Bertie, a boy bought up in South Africa who befriends a white lion only to lose him to a French circus. They’re re-united in France during the Great War and remain together for the rest of the lion’s life.
Stock story-book caricatures – tyrannical Latin master complete with mortar board and cane, school bully Basher Beaumont, comical Frenchman, et al – are portrayed with appropriate vigour. It’s partly this unashamed stridency and partly the set that distinguish the production.
Michael (framing story) and Bertie (inner story) are done successfully by Adam Buchanan – an adult actor playing a schoolboy in shorts doesn’t always come off, but it does here. Lloyd Notice is mostly narrating but sometimes stepping into the action – when Bertie is lying badly wounded in No-Man’s-Land he functions almost as a guardian angel. Gwen Taylor, as older woman Millie – she also narrates – acts without appearing to be doing any such thing; she’s superb.
Juliet Shillingford’s set is beautiful. It uses miraculously minimalist paraphernalia, deftly shifted about by the actors, most of whom are on stage nearly all the time, to create new locations. Puppets and models stand in for animals, butterflies, ships and so on.
It’s a marketing cliché, but this is an ideal show for all the family. It allows children to explore adult perspectives and vice versa; and it never talks down to anyone. Life is not unfailingly agreeable, and endings are not always Enid Blytonishly happy; the play makes this and much else clear. But it’s also deeply entertaining.
Lion/Mr Cook: Lloyd Notice.
Millie: Susie Gwen Taylor.
Michael/Bertie: Adam Buchanan.
Latin Master/father/Colonel/Ensemble: Michael Palmer.
Matron/Mother/Ensemble: Gina Isaac.
Basher Beaumont/Farm Hand/Captain/Café Owner/Ensemble: Christopher Hogben.
Farm Hand/Merlot/Soldier/Ensemble: Sydney K Smith.
Farm Hand/Merlot’s Assistant/Ambulance Driver/Ensemble: Sam Clark.
Nanny/Nurse/Ensemble: Tracy Bargate.
Director: Daniel Buckroyd.
Designer: Juliet Shillingford.
Lighting: Mark Dymock.
Sound: Adam P McCready.