Review: The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo at Colchester Mercury until September 14

The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo at the Mercury, Colchester until September 14

The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo at the Mercury, Colchester until September 14 - Credit: Archant

A captivating story that sings to you from the start.

The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo at the Mercury, Colchester until September 14

The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo at the Mercury, Colchester until September 14 - Credit: Archant

Daniel Buckroyd’s adaptation of the Morpurgo book is right on the button and his direction a delight. No wonder West End producer Bill Kenwright has latched on to it for a UK tour that starts when the curtain comes down here.

The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo at the Mercury, Colchester until September 14

The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo at the Mercury, Colchester until September 14 - Credit: Archant

It’s a story that sings to you from its opening moments and it’s a bit sad that it is getting under way just as the new school term is starting because it is mesmerising theatre for bright young minds. Not that this is kids stuff. It may have started life as a children’s book but this production is something for everyone and I defy grown-ups not to be moved by it.

The Butterfly Lion is a lovely story, beautifully told with a ghostly twist in the tail. And right from the off, Buckroyd invests it with a surreal other-worldliness played across a big all-purpose impressionist landscape as we burrow into the life of a 12-year-old boy with an adventurous mind and suppressed soul.

But, is he really one boy or two? Is Michael also Bertie, a lad from a past age? Because when Michael, unhappy and bullied, runs away from boarding school he is taken in by a woman who then tells him a tale about another lonely boy who ran away from school long ago.


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Bertie grows up on his father’s cattle farm in Africa and there he rescues a white lion cub from a pack of hyenas and brings it up as a large pet that may chase chickens but doesn’t eat people. Inseparable, they are forced to part when Bertie is sent to school in England but the boy promises the lion, known as the White Prince, he will find him again.

And a boy’s promise is a solemn thing because all of us who have enjoyed talking to animals will know that every word we say is understood. Whether they will meet again is in the lap of the gods because Bertie is growing up and, among other problems, he must go through the hell of the Great War trenches.

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Gwen Taylor is Millie, the main storyteller, effortlessly occupying centre stage and brilliantly interplaying with Adam Buchanan as Michael and Bertie as they move through time and space. Buchanan is in boy’s shirt and short trousers all through, even under his army greatcoat and tin hat as the stage erupts into war, but it all works splendidly well.

The puppets large and small are great creatures and Lloyd Notice, the lion’s puppeteer and part narrator, adds cleverly to the illusory effect by often seeming to float in and out of the action. Michal Palmer, Gina Isaac, Christopher Hogben, Sydney K Smith, Sam Clark and Tracy Bargate play about 20 other characters between them with equal ease and success in a champion night of theatre.

David Henshall.

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