Want an instant fix of magic? Book yourself a ticket to see The Butterfly Lion, Michael Morpurgo’s beautiful story brought magically to life by Daniel Buckroyd.
Much like War Horse, The Butterfly Lion focuses on the relationships humans form with animals. In this case, it’s the friendship between Bertie and the white lion cub he rescues near his childhood home in the African Veldt. This story – remembered years later and passed on by Bertie’s widow, Milly – crosses the years, chronicling Bertie as lonely schoolboy to medal-winning soldier.
In the present day, Milly is telling the story to a young Michael Morpurgo, who, much like Bertie years before him, is struggling to enjoy his boarding school education.
Adam Buchanan is utterly fantastic as both Bertie and Albert, hopping back and forth effortlessly between the two; Gwen Taylor is perfect as narrator Milly, slipping seamlessly from a 10-year-old girl to a woman in her seventies. The supporting cast dart back and forth between roles, covering everything from Bertie’s parents to school bullies and World War One nurses; the range of performances on display is fantastic and so it’s a surprise to realise that the entire cast of such a sweeping, decade-spanning story comprises of just nine people.
The play is start-to-finish breathtaking. The animals of the African plains are brought vividly to life via puppetry, and the orphaned white lion transforms magically from cub to full-grown adult. The mechanics of the puppets is unbelievable; every movement and mannerism is authentic and the intelligent glinting of each animal’s eyes is utterly hypnotising. The lion’s eyes glimmer with emotion: it’s hard to believe that the be-maned creature prowling across the stage isn’t, well, real. Lloyd Notice is the master of the big cat, making it twist and turn its way across the stage, reflecting its intelligence and warmth in his powerful but subtle performance.
The play is so uplifting that you’ll leave the theatre with a renewed sense of optimism; like Michael, your faith in humanity – and magic – will be well and truly restored.
The Butterfly Lion is at The Mercury Theatre, Colchester, until 14 September, and will then embark on a nationwide tour. Book here.
Images courtesy of The Mercury Theatre.