Reviewed by Helen and Garry McWilliams
Following great success at Leicester Curve Theatre and Derby Theatre, Michael Morpurgo’s ‘Butterfly Lion’ is currently on tour and entertaining young and old alike. It’s a cleverly written story which on the surface would appear to be a children’s tale, yet has many layers to analyse.
With use of puppetry a much publicised element of the show, we expected to see a production akin to ‘War Horse*’, and we weren’t far wrong. With a skilled cast of actors among whom, is the ever popular Gwen Taylor, this show has something for everyone and works on many levels. Well staged with puppets taking on almost a life of their own, from the lion (at various stages of his life) to the butterflies!
The story opens with the introduction of young Michael who makes good his escape from boarding school and finds himself inside the private property of a lady called Millie. Here is where the story of the Butterfly Lion starts (who can be seen in the distance upon the hillside). Michael learns about Bertie who was born in South Africa and is fascinated by the animals who visit the water hole which he can see from the gates of his house. At the centre of Bertie’s attention is a Lioness with her cub, however the disappearance of so many cattle from Bertie’s family’s land causes the lion cub to become orphaned. In a story not too dissimilar to that of ‘War Horse’, Bertie develops a close friendship and bond with the lion cub, sadly parting company with him a few years before the First World War breaks out. Although the story is pitched for 7 years old upwards, it’s far from a fairy story as there are some harsh realities, but it still works well as a children’s story.
Adam Buchanan takes on the dual role of Michael/Bertie and he has an amazing capacity for switching between young and old, it was easy to follow which character he was playing as he moved seamlessly between the two. Gwen Taylor is a triumph as Millie, she’s adept at showing playing the caring matriarch character, clear and engaging as a narrator with superb diction, but also plays Millie as a little girl endearingly. Lloyd Notice who operates the lion also puts in a stunning performance, indeed there is not one weak link in this cast, though – everyone should be commended on a moving piece of theatre.
Why, you may be wondering is this lion a butterfly lion? That would be telling! However, the tour is continuing to Nottingham, Glasgow, Richmond and Brighton – so we recommend that you go and find out.
*For our readers who may not be aware, ‘War Horse’ was also written by Michael Morpurgo.