The Butterfly Lion, is a children’s story written in 1996 by Michael Morpugo, best known for his multi award-winning play and film ‘War Horse’.
Daniel Buckroyd, artistic director of Mercury Theatre, Colchester, was given permission by the author to adapt the book for the stage and, having done so, it became a small scale touring show to schools and art centres.
In 2012, however, working in partnership with Bill Kenright, Daniel had the opportunity to turn the play, directed by himself, into a full-scale version which is now touring the country.
The stage is simply set with a few items which are used in many different ways, a backcloth of the Wiltshire hillside which, with the help of subtle lighting, becomes the slopes of the Veldt in South Africa and, later in the play, a ridge of land in France which is ‘no-mans’ land during the first world war - shades of ‘War Horse’ here.
A young boy named Michael runs away from his boarding school in Wiltshire and has to shelter from the rain in an old house where he meets an old lady, Millie, who takes him in to keep him warm and dry.
She starts to tell him the story of another young boy, Bertie, who was taken away to South Africa by his parents, where he leads an unhappy life.
Then he rescues a white lion cub and his life changes for the better for a short while until he is sent off to boarding school in England (the same one from which Michael is escaping) and the now-grown lion is sold to a circus.
Bertie vows to find the lion one day but much happens before we find out if his promise will come true.
Mille is played by the wonderful Gwen Taylor who is totally believable in that part as well as a nurse in the Great War or the 10-year-old girl Bertie meets when he is at the boarding school.
Playing opposite her, as both boys, is a young man, Adam Buchanan, who, remarkably, only graduated from the Guildford School of Acting earlier this year.
In a brilliant performance, both as the two young boys and the hero of the trenches who wins the Victoria Cross, Adam shows what an amazing actor he is and I sure we will hear and see much more of this young man in the coming years.
There, are however, a number of top performances from the remainder of the cast in a number of cameo roles throughout the play.
Michael Palmer is very impressive as, among other parts, Bertie’s authoritative father as is Gina Isaac as the boy’s mother. Lloyd Notice, who shares part of the narration with Millie and is also the puppeteer for the grown up lion, is riveting.
Christopher Hogben (pictured), Sidney K Smith, Sam Clark and Tracy Bargate all make valuable contributions in various roles throughout the play.
Although this is a story written for children, it is an uplifting one which will find a place in any adults heart. By the end of the first act quite a number of tears were being shed and, as far as I am aware, there was only one child in the audience.
This is a play which will be remembered as one of the best we have had at the Devonshire Park Theatre in recent years. If you can get along to see tonight (Friday) or tomorrow (Saturday) I urge you to go.
There is a matinee performance at 2.30pm on Saturday and a 7.45pm evening performances. But take a few Kleenex tissues with you.