A magical show for the family

Adam Buchanan as Bertie in The Butterfly Lion
Adam Buchanan as Bertie in The Butterfly Lion

One of the finest West End shows of recent years is War Horse, which the National Theatre produced out of Michael Morpurgo’s book and became a major film.

From the same stable comes The Butterfly Lion, which proved to be sheer delight at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal.

Indeed, it was a magical show for all the family.

Part of the setting is again the First World War and the French battlefields, but the background concerns the rescue by Bertie, a young boy living in Africa, of an orphaned white lion cub.

They are separated when Bertie goes to boarding school and the lion is sold to a circus.

Bertie vows to see his friend again but there’s a long road to travel first.

Such is the background. Charm is added by the adaptation of a fine children’s book through minimalistic and rapid set changes, subtly moved around by the cast, who are on stage for virtually the entire play.

Models and puppets depicting the animals and butterflies are also effective, particularly a gathering around a water hole.

Some of the nine members of the cast play varied roles, with the lead taken by the excellent Gwen Taylor. Less is more here, as she narrates the tale in a manner which compels attention.

Adam Buchanan is convincing as the young Bertie, who later survives the horror of the trenches with honour and some mishap. Lloyd Notice brings the lion to life and also narrates.

In a play which adults and children can enjoy to the full, the journey takes us from the southern chalk downlands, the South African veldt and the horrors of trench warfare before returning to the beginning.

There’s a touch of the supernatural as the story heads towards its conclusion with an explanation of the connection between Panthera Leo and the Adonis Blue butterfly.

The production is adapted and directed by Daniel Buckroyd, formerly of the Nottingham-based New Perspectives Theatre Company.