For those unaware of Michael Morpurgo’s novel ‘The Butterfly Lion’, it doesn’t really matter. Familiar or not, The Barn’s stage adaptation recreates a beautiful children’s story that instills warmth into most pessimistic of adults (I should know).
As a young boy growing up in South Africa befriends an orphaned white lion, Daniel Buckroyd’s adaption really captured the view of the world from a child’s perspective and accentuated the sweet simplicity of long lasting friendships. The first half may have been relatively slow-going, but by the second it was literally all guns blazing. By the end we have witnessed the growth and strength of friendships tied together by unbroken promises.
Tying The Butterfly Lion together was Hillary Harwood (Millie), and she made me feel as though I was in the presence of Carole Channing at times. Given the the fact that she could command the whole room’s attention, it would seem Daniel Buckroyd had adapted the role specifically for her – making Millie the most divine storyteller for The Butterfly Lion. She made the production feel like a bedtime story, and this really lent itself to the narrative’s endearing motifs of fate, love and friendship.
Alongside Harwood came her sidekick Jasper William Cartwright (Michael/Bertie). Cartwright was a sheer delight to watch, particularly as he depicted Bertie’s journey – from creating a relationship with an unlikely kindred spirit found in an orphaned lion cub. Their story grew together, as did Cartwright’s stage presence – if I saw a future show with his name on the bill, I’d probably go to it for that reason alone.
Millie (Hilary Harwood) flies a kite Henry Douthwaite, Jeremy Cobb, Abigail Matthews
Arguably an unlikely stand-out role, but a worthy mention for me also goes to Henry Douthwaite for his undeniable charisma and performative strength elevated through an amalgamation of characters which drove the witty element of the story, – from a West Country driver to a French cafe owner – and quite simply left me in stitches.
The use of puppetry in the production encapsulates the more traditional elements of childhood. Granted, the story is set in as early as the 1900s but whether or not this was an intended move, for me, the puppetry really linked the era to the story’s adolescent themes.
I can’t lie, puppetry, for me, is very hit and miss. Although there was no question that Maia Kirkman-Richards’ design of the white lion was simply gorgeous, the audience are required to put in some work to maintain their suspension of disbelief. Despite the puppet’s undeniable majesty, the handlers of the puppet itself are abundantly present and, at times, made the stage quite chaotic – the distraction was minor, but sometimes stole attention from the artwork itself. That being said, The Barn tends to operate with a small and diverse team which was evidently all that was needed to pay homage to Michael Morpurgo’s classic novel.
The Butterfly Lion is a very endearing show indeed, and (I imagine) a marvellous family night out.
The Butterfly Lion will run at The Barn Theatre, Cirencester, until May 2. For tickets visit www.barntheatre.org.uk