Writer: Marcelo Dos Santos (adapted from the books by Zizou Corder)
Director: Annabel Arden
Reviewer: Nicole Evans
Based on the trilogy of the same name by Zizou Corder, Lionboy tells the story of Charlie Ashanti who, after a random exchange of blood with a leopard cub, finds he can converse with cats as easily as he can with humans. Fast forward a few years and Charlie finds himself and his gift being pursued by The Corporacy, a pharmaceuticals corporation intent on discovering the secrets of Charlie and his scientist parents. Adetomiwa Edun (from BBC’s Merlin) at first seems an unusual choice to play an 11 year old boy and the urgency of the fact Charlie’s parents have been kidnapped is almost lost because of the age and maturity of the actor, but as the complicated and sinister nature of the story unfolds it is clear to see why a younger actor couldn’t fill the rôle and Edun excels at portraying his character’s vulnerabilities as he flees from The Corporacy and sets off on his quest to find his parents.
Considering the location of the story travels across the world, the set is remarkably static and simple. It consists mainly of a multi-purpose giant white moon that is raised, lowered and lit up cleverly to create a whole array of effects and acts as everything from a simple backdrop to a shadow projection screen. The cast take on the responsibility of providing the rest and at times they quite literally are the set. With movement, unusual live percussion and minimalistic props they manage to create an amazingly mystical atmosphere that has the audience entranced and fully immersed in Charlie’s adventures. Even the giant wooden instruments positioned at the front of the stage add to the authenticity of the tale. Perfectly timed beats and bangs provide the sound effects and coupled with creative lighting, have the heart racing along with the fast pace of the story and succeeding in portraying the urgency and fear of the characters before us. As well as being props, lighting assistants and sound engineers the other cast members have a multitude of characters to play, sometimes confusingly narrating their parts as they act them. Their rôles range from cats to Corporacy officials and they all effortlessly switch from one to another, impressing a completely different personality on to every performance they give. Lisa Kerr is particularly captivating and whichever rôle she is playing you can’t help but be drawn to her gliding movements and bewitching expressions and Robert Gilbert makes for a particularly convincing bad guy and immediately has the entire audience gunning for him. After exciting scenes moving through countries on boats and trains we reach the story’s climax with the audience involved in the battle between Charlie vs. The Corporacy. But who will win?
Overall Lionboy is a stunning, thought provoking production and for Complicite’s first venture into the world of children’s theatre it’s impressive. However, the constant shift between narration and acting, although clever, could easily lose a younger mind and towards the end of the story the plot does feel a little rushed. The spectacular format of the show as a whole makes up for its flaws though and the imaginative combination of acrobatics, elaborate costumes and live music take you on a journey like no other.
Well worth a visit.
Runs until 20th June.