The strong sense of anticipation I felt heading into The Butterfly Lion’s debut performance was definitely not let down by Daniel Buckroyd’s mesmerising adaptation.
The small cast transported the entire theatre from the African Savannah to the battlefields of Flanders and back home to Wiltshire in time for tea and scones (treats the lucky Adam Buchanan, playing both Michael and Bertie, actually got to enjoy on stage!). There were one or two opening night line glitches, though these barely affected the flow of the action.
Gwen Taylor and Lloyd Notice worked wonderfully together as the two narrative voices of the piece, through her role as Millie and his roles as Narrator, Lion and Mr Cook towards the end. The chemistry between them really carried through the whole production as they slipped seamlessly between their different roles.
Taylor was able to convincingly switch between elderly lady, young girl, and WWI nurse without breaking a sweat. For the most part Buchanan managed this well too. At first I wasn’t sure on his portrayal of a very young Bertie, although this was probably because it was difficult to switch from playing a 10 year old to a toddler. This was definitely not an issue as the play progressed.
Using doubling to tell the story was a stroke of genius.
Using doubling to tell the story was a stroke of genius, but I did hear one of the younger members of the audience expressing some confusion at Millie and Michael’s dual characters during the interval.
The amount of younger audience members was also phenomenal. It was undeniably a family orientated performance which just added to the magic of the play – when better to relive the amazing stories of your childhood than while surrounded by children experiencing it for the first time?
The Butterfly Lion itself, come to life from what appeared to only be a mask and a few sheets, was really quite beautiful and Notice’s use of the puppet brought it to life. In the same way, the ensemble’s creation of hyena and the use of toy animals to create an African waterhole scene added something quite special to the whole show, and the fluid, choreographed way they dealt with set changes produced an almost dreamlike atmosphere throughout a lot of the play.
This was definitely apparent at the beginning of the second half when we watch Bertie heading off to war. I thought the way it was staged was particularly poignant, as we watched him and his regiment marching proudly through the fields, only to be confronted almost immediately with the horrific truth of war; the depiction of their conception of war against its reality really hit home.
It really is a wonderful story: love, loss, scones – what more can you ask for?
One of my favourite details was that the kitchen set in which Millie was telling Michael the story of the Butterfly Lion. It was a constant on stage throughout the performance, offering us reassurance that the action is only a tale come to life through Millie’s words; it’s almost like sitting at home reading a book, knowing that surely it all has to work out in the end. It really is a wonderful story: love, loss, scones – what more can you ask for? The butterflies are truly beautiful, and the play is enchanting from start to finish. A lovely evening all round, methinks.
The Butterfly Lion is on at The Theatre Royal until Saturday 26th October. For more information and tickets click here