Michael Morpurgo’s absorbing tale of the enduring relationship between a boy and a lion translates exquisitely to the stage in this adaptation. Like all the best children’s stories and especially because it encompasses the First World War, it is multi-layered, with a dimension that is close to something spiritual.
Gwen Taylor (Millie), Joe Jameson (Michael/Bertie) and Israel Oyelumade (Lion) in The Butterfly Lion at Curve Theatre, Leicester Photo: Robert Day
The story slips seamlessly between past and present, between the South African veld and the green hills of Wiltshire, the shabby farm kitchen and the wilderness of no man’s land. New Perspectives adds its unique brand of resourcefulness and inventiveness, so that the audience can readily believe that a table top with toy safari animals is indeed a watering hole at dusk.
Joe Jameson gives a winning performance as the boys Michael and Bertie. He is all arms and legs, eagerness and perplexity, and because he carries all this through into the young soldier that Bertie becomes, he makes the boy’s passage to adulthood wholly credible. Robert Curtis can chill as the hardened white farmer, Bertie’s father, and Gwen Taylor is the comfortable presence of Millie, the glue that holds the story together.
The puppets, from the nuzzling, nudging lion to the circling hyenas and the ballet of butterflies, are winsome but imbued with a dignity that stops at sentimentality. And the play is full of wonderful cameo roles, from the Latin teacher to the school bully, from the French circus owner to the driver of the wartime ambulance. This is a first class production that could grace any stage in the country.