Lionboy

Thu 30th May – Sat 1st June 2013

reviews

Anwen Jones

at 11:00 on 31st May 2013

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It is always difficult to transform a novel into a stage play, especially when the novel in question is in fact a trilogy involving a pride of lions, a trip to Africa, a magical chameleon, a hot air balloon and a boy who can speak to cats. In this sense, Complicite certainly had their work cut out for them. However, through the innovative and daring direction of Annabel Arden and the cleverly crafted stage adaption by Marcelo Dos Santos, the company once again demonstrated their ability to tackle a challenge and create an exciting, edge-of-the-seat piece of theatre.

Plunging quickly into the life of Charlie Ashanti (played by Adetomiwa Edun) the audience are taken on a fast-paced ride through London's streets as he tries to outrun the threatening presence of Rafi (Robert Gilbert) who Charlie suspects played some part in his parents' kidnapping. Meeting with cats, circus players, chameleons and lions whilst travelling through London, Paris and Africa, Charlie is faced with the adventure of a lifetime, pursued however by the shadow of the haunting Corporacy, a world-wide organisation with a sinister twist.

The 8 strong cast were, on the whole, exceptional. The comical musings of Sergei (Clive Mendes), a cat from Wigan, - watch out for a timely FA cup joke - alongside the hilarious antics of King Boris of Bulgaria (Dan Milne) ensured numerous outbursts of laughter and squeals from both old and young audience members. This acted in stark contrast to Robert Gilford's chillingly realistic portrayal of a disturbed school drop-out and Victoria Gould's almost 'Proffesor Umbridge-like' tones as the Corporacy's Chief Executive. However, the energy, enthusiasm and emotion shown by Adetomiwa Edun throughout definitely stole the show. Not only was he sensitive, working both on a child's and adult's level of sympathy, he also bounded around the stage with such believability and commitment that it was difficult to take your eyes off him. In addition, I mustn't overlook the power and impact of the music and percussion; Stephen Hiscock's talent ensured a fusion of African soul with up-tempo, action beats, transporting the audience at times to the familiar feelings created by the Lion King soundtrack.

Perhaps the only things that stopped this production from becoming a 5 star show were the haphazard boxing scene in the second half, which detracted from the emotion and heart-ache displayed just a few minutes before, and the very occasional stuttering of lines which halted the natural flow of the script. However, it is fair to say that Complicite have managed to deliver their first family based play with vibrancy, humour, colourful entertainment and an infectious energy. I wait eagerly to see what they plan to do next.

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lucy hanbury-aggs

at 15:21 on 31st May 2013

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“Lionboy” is the story of a young boy's wild adventure from his house in London to Africa via a Channel-crossing with The circus, a tea-date with the King of Bulgaria on the Orient Express and a hot-air balloon ride with a pride of 6 lions. This was not an easy task that the team Complicite had set themselves, but with inventive staging, clever design and bold acting they most certainly pulled it off. We follow Charlie Ashanti as he looks for his parents, who have been kidnapped by the drug-giant The Corporacy, round Europe as he runs from their henchman Rafi Sadler meeting all kinds of characters on his way. Many of whom are cats because, did he mention (oh so casually) he can speak cat?

As a company Complicite has gained respect and notoriety for their unique mix of extravagance and the surreal, but this is their first attempt at a play aimed at the over-8s. It most definitely is, much like the trilogy on which it is based, a family piece. On the whole, they strike the delicate balance on being accessible to the younger members of the audience without patronizing or alienating the rest.

The entire 8-strong cast were brilliant. And although I felt at time Lisa Kerr very occasionally slipped into an acting style so gaudy it would have been more suitable to a pantomime portrayal of Buttons, it was ultimately a family production. Victoria Gould was a fabulous and likeable bearded-lady but even more impressive in her Professor Umbridge style portrayal of the Corporacy’s Chief Executive with a sugar-sweet but sinisterly sterile smile.

The production was exceedingly well done. A percussion performer Stephen Hiscock was a brilliant addition to the recorded sound, interacting with the actors whilst being unobtrusive and adding a certain quality as only live music can. With a giant white disc tilted above the stage, projections could take us from the heat of the African sun to the cold, sterile interior of The Corporacy headquarters. Admittedly there were a few hiccups, including a unintentionally funny yet clammy-hand moment involving a miniature hot-air balloon on a motor that wouldn’t run.

Indeed, there were very occasional moments where a prop would malfunction or an actor would slightly trip over a line or two. But whenever it looked like they would loose their flow, they were rescued by the sheer skill of the acting, almost always by the star lead Adetomiwa Edun who played 11 year old Charlie. He was able to portray the vulnerability of youth as expertly as the strength of the lions. In fact in a rather overly-rushed, compressed second–half, what stands out for me as its saving grace was his beautifully moving monologue upon finding The Corporacy’s animal testing lab. Simply put, he was fantastic: funny when needed, earnest yet convincing and true star-quality.

Overall “Lionboy” is a vibrant, engaging and successful family adaptation of a brilliant novel (incidentally co-written by a mother and her young daughter). It should appeal to young and old as a dynamic, contemporary, shining example of fantastical storytelling at its best.

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