The Butterfly Lion, Chichester Festival Theatre, REVIEW: 'A must-see'

The Butterfly Lion is at Chichester Festival Theatre until November 15. Picture: Manuel Harlan
The Butterfly Lion is at Chichester Festival Theatre until November 15. Picture: Manuel Harlan
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It’s been a while since I’ve felt enough about a Festival Theatre production to rave; it seemed that dearth of pleasure has come to an end.

The final show in this year’s Festival – Michael Morpurgo’s The Butterfly Lion (adapted by Anna Ledwitch) – sends the creativity levels soaring.

Set around the First World War, it’s not about the war-horses this time; there’s a white lion, rescued from the South African veldt when its mother is killed and adopted by our hero, Bertie. The time comes when the lion must move on and he’s passed to a French circus-owner. Devastated Bertie vows to find him again one day with consequences both tragic and joyous.

The cast are excellent, the younger members outstanding. Archie Elliot (Bertie), Ruari Finnegan (Michael) and Matilda Shapland (especially) as Millie, flew with it.

The adults, too, leave no acting stone unturned. As older versions of Millie, Nicola Sloane and Claudia Jolly excel and Adam Buchanan as the older Bertie is heart-breaking in his intensity, particularly (spoiler coming) in his scene with the dying lion.

The puppet-work is sublime – top marks to James Charlton, Lucas Button and Kevin Mathurin who breathe astonishing life into the props.

The setting is simple; the sound as much a part of the scenery as the wonderful tree that dominates the stage and the lighting effects are ingenious. For the first time in a long while, I’m overjoyed to say – it’s a must-see.