West Yorkshire Playhouse

Adetomiwa Edun as Charlie Ashanti
Adetomiwa Edun as Charlie Ashanti
© Mark Douet
Based on the novels by Zizou Corder, Lionboy is a bold and ambitious attempt to recreate the story of Charlie Ashanti; a boy who talks ‘cat'.

While maybe not an obvious candidate for the stage, Complicite's co-production, imaginatively adapted by Marcelo Dos Santos and directed by Annabel Arden, is in fact a lively and entertaining spectacle for adults and older children alike.

Anchored by Adetomiwa Edun, the eight-strong cast relay young Charlie's journey to find his parents, who have been kidnapped by an evil, all-powerful corporation. Tracking them down is no straightforward task, as it involves a circus troupe, the Orient Express, lions and a trip to Africa. Now there's a challenge for a creative team!

Fortunately, all are more than up to the task, interpreting and adapting each element in such an inspired way that it's easy to forgive the occasional jarring moment or odd plot development.

Between them, the talented and energetic cast is required to take on a number of roles, both animal and human, and all are a joy to watch; while Edun's portrayal of Charlie serves to give the whole story focus and heart.

He's a terrific narrator and brings real emotion to this fantastical tale that still has at its centre the importance of ‘home' and respecting all living things. Special mention should also go to Stephen Hiscock who provides the music and on-stage percussion to great effect.

Behind the scenes, the creative team, including Tim Mascall (lighting), Tom Gibbons (sound) and Jon Bausor and Jean Chan (design), has done wondrous things to recreate Charlie's world.

At times, the production does get a bit intense, with flashing lights and loud noises that may be a little scary for some younger audience members, but the staging is so visceral it ensures there is always something happening to keep the audience interested. In a two hour show (including 20-minute interval) there's never a dull moment or a lull in the action; but then, with so much ground to cover, there's no time to waste!

Overall, the main strength of this production is that it manages to retain a feel of spontaneity. The source novels began life with Louisa Young and her daughter, Isabel Adomakoh Young (together known as Zizou Corder), telling each other stories, and watching Lionboy unfold on stage, there's a feeling the cast is continually responding to a child's voice shouting ‘so, what happened next?'.

Fortunately, the answer is imaginative enough to please and entertain audiences; both young and old.

- Hannah Giles

Lionboy is at the West Yorkshire between 25 June - 29 June as part of a UK tour. For tickets, contact the box office on 0113 213 7700, or visit www.wyp.org.uk.