Last Thursday, I went to see The Butterfly Lion at Theatre Royal, Nottingham. Written by one of my childhood favourites, Michael Morpurgo, though I have read a lot of his books, I had never actually read this one. So I decided to go, childless, instead with my parents, to find out what I’d been missing.
Kensuke’s Kingdom by Morpurgo was the ‘cross-over’ book designed to ease the transition from year 6 to secondary school at my school, and although I enjoyed it, I remember thinking it wasn’t one of his finer books, preferring others like Twist of Gold. As a child, my parents took me to see him talk at Lincoln Drill Hall, and I treasured my signed copy of Private Peaceful. My copy came into its own when I had the opportunity whilst doing my AS Levels to provide the music for a lower school production of the book. In fact, I was surprised not only by the resonance a single piano could have, but also something I hadn’t thought about before: just how well his books translate onto the stage.
Walking from the car park to the theatre, I had a few initial fears that we might be the only ‘grown-ups’ there. Would a Morpurgo book – after all, a book intended for children – have the same impact on stage when the audience wasn’t there to see their beloved littl’un do the acting? My fears were unfounded on two levels: firstly, there were clumps of adults of all ages with no sign of a transfixed child in sight (still, quite rightly, eating wine gums and haribo though I might add), and secondly, Morpurgo’s stories are amazing no matter what age you are. I don’t mean to go all literary on yo’, but the themes speak out.
The performance of The Butterfly Lion drew on a small scale from West End productions, such as The Lion King, and of course his own War Horse (which incidentally, I am ITCHING to see), by cleverly utilising animal props. I loved the transition from small lion to large one, and when the fully-grown lion appeared, at first I was skeptical of the basic beige rags used to portray the animal. But my skepticism was unfounded: who knew so much life could be breathed into something so flimsy and lifeless.
Morpurgo wasn’t as big an influence as say, Roald Dahl, or J. K. Rowling was on my childhood reading, but bringing such a vibrant production to Nottingham allowed me to relive that little bit of magic that he instilled on my younger years.
(Image from Theatre Royal website)