The Butterfly Lion (Tour - Curve, Leicester)
17 April 2012 WOS Rating: This adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s popular children’s novel first saw the light of day as a schools tour several years ago. Now Curve has co-produced an expanded version of Daniel Buckroyd’s production alongside his company, New Perspectives. That there remains much of the feel of a schools touring show about it is not necessarily a bad thing. It is simple, charming and innocent – all major pluses when put up against the onslaught of grim, gritty, foul-mouthed realism in much of today’s new writing.
Buckroyd, who adapted and directs, makes extensive use of devices that will be familiar to anyone involved with theatre in education: puppetry, actors doubling and trebling roles, putting handy props and scenery to multiple use. The effect, reinforced by Juliet Shillingford’s evocative design and an energetic company of seven, led by veteran actress Gwen Taylor, is successful in generating a constant flow of episodes from Morpurgo’s original book with a pace and humour to keep the shortest of attention spans hooked.
It’s more an exercise in storytelling than in theatre, though, with not one, but two narrators unfolding the story of the young boy Bertie, who adopts an orphaned white lion cub in Africa and somehow ends up living with him in England years later. And there’s more than an echo of Morpurgo’s other big animal hit, War Horse, as Bertie first loses his leonine friend then pursues a quest that takes in the Great War and a journey across Europe to be reunited with him.
There are moving moments and some nicely judged performances, although the relentless musical underscore becomes wearisome very quickly and some of the theatrical effects feel rather laboured and heavy-handed.
However, as an entertainment for children of a certain age – particularly those familiar with the book – it should prove very digestible and undemandingly enjoyable.
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