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The Butterfly Lion (Colchester)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Achieving balance for a family show, one which keeps the attention of both children and their elders, is akin to a high-wire act. Daniel Buckroyd's new version of Michael Morpurgo's The Butterfly Lion uses every trick in the theatrical book to ensure that the story appeals on nearly every level.

Chief among these is the puppetry devised by Sue Pyecroft in association with movement director Matthew Cullum. The Mercury Theatre's own production department must have worked overtime to fulfil all the demands placed on it by designer Juliet Shillingford but the visual blend of simplicity and artifice does work.

The story centres on two boys, one brought up on the South African veldt and his relationship with an orphaned white lion cub; the other equally miserable 30 or so years later at the same English boarding school and how an encounter with an old lady and the stories she relates change that boy's life. An excellent and thoroughly credible Adam Buchanan plays both Bertie and Michael.

Gwen Taylor is Millie, the teller of tales and re-creator of wonders. Lloyd Notice handles the grown lion with matching authority; I think every child in the first-night audience wanted to take the lion cub home as its snowy perfection was revealed and to catch one of the myriad of blue butterflies.

Satellites to these three key actors are Gina Isaac and Michael Palmer as Bertie's parents, Christopher Hogben as the classroom bully, Tracy Bargate as a VAD, Sydney K Smith as the circus owner and Sam Clark as an ambulance driver with a most unusual passenger. The haunting score is by Carlton Edwards.