Lionboy at the Unicorn
Currently celebrating their 30th anniversary, Complicite’s first full-length children’s production brings the Lionboy trilogy roaring to life. Written by Zizou Corder, a pseudonym for Louisa Young and her daughter Isabel Adomakoh Young (Zizou being the name of Isabel’s pet lizard), the play tells the story of Charlie Ashanti, a boy living in a polluted future who is blessed with the ability to talk to cats.
Aimed at those aged eight and over, Complicite associate Annabel Arden directs a very energetic cast around a set designed to resemble a circus ring. With the characters journeying through so many locations – from England to France via a ship on the Channel and eventually to Africa and back – switching between all these locations was always going to be a challenge. So while the circus ship does seem like a circus, the sea is not evoked and the African plain sequence is somewhat rushed.
Given the sheer expanse of the story though, some parts were always going to be more successful than others. Structurally, while the second half is run through far too quickly with the evil empire that is the Corporacy (a futuristic drugs conglomerate that has abducted Charlie’s parents) bending far too easily to Charlie’s will, it is also more enjoyable than a somewhat slow first half.
However, the excellent set design of Joe Bausor and the creative flair of the cast, all of whom play more than two characters, mean that much of the story’s magic survives its limited time frame. Adetomiwa Edun gives an enthusiastic performance as Charlie, and overcomes the question of how you portray lions on stage with a roar and a bend of the body, which instantly morphs him into his feline friends. Other highlights include Dan Milne’s King Boris, Lisa Kerr’s Ninu and Robert Gilbert as Corporacy thug Rafi Sadler.
Complicite then, suit children’s theatre. The straightforward sincerity they often bring to the table can sometimes fall very flat, as with their recent production of the Russian classic Master and Margarita, which needed much less sentimentality and much more satiric bite. With Lionboy though they have got the balance about right and, though there are some moments that teeter on the edge of cheese (particularly when Charlie reasserts that it’s a good job he had his asthma inhaler with him and things get a little child-safety film), overall it’s an enjoyable and richly creative production.
Lionboy is on at the Unicorn Theatre until 21st July 2013, for further information or to book visit here.