The Butterfly Lion At The Richmond Theatre

Anne Flaherty reviews stage adaptation of Michael Murpurgo's novel

Related links

Lloyd Notice as Mr. Cook

Sign up for email newsletters from,,,,,,, and

You don't need to bring a child who has read The Butterfly Lion with you to see the stage production, but it helps.

The adaptation of the award-winning writer Michael Morpurgo’s inspiring tale of enduring friendship is a firm favourite with young children and my ten-year old daughter Holly was no exception.

The novel tells the story of Bertie (Adam Buchanan) who adopts a white lioncub while growing up on a farm in Timbavati, South Africa. We follow his story through boarding school in England and then to the Front Line in France as a soldier in the First World War when he tries to find the White Lion who has been sold to a circus. Bertie's story is told by his childhood friend Millie played by Gwen Taylor (Coronation Street, Heartbeat) who brings her years of theatrical experience to the narration and is a central character on the stage.

Former Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo was catapulted onto the world stage in 2007 with the National Theatre production of his book War Horse. The show has been a major hit in the West End, on Broadway and was filmed by Steven Spielberg. It's difficult for the cast in The Butterfly Lion to replicate the stunning puppetry of War Horse, but they do a sterling job, although my young companion did complain that using toy animals to replicate the scene at the waterhole was not as exciting as it might have been if the actors had used larger puppets or wore animal costumes. However they do this on other occasions including the scene (pictured below) where a pack of hyenas try to kill the orphaned lion-cub.

Adam Buchanan as Bertie

Lloyd Notice (Mr. Cook) did a great job weaving the puppet White Lion around the stage, and he has great stage presence, his booming voice drawing us into the narrative. Adam Buchanan ( a recent graduate of the Guildhall School of Acting ) is an energetic Bertie and also plays the character of Michael (the young boy who is hearing the story about the White Lion from Millie).

Excellent support comes from Gina Isaac ( Bertie's mother) and Michael Palmer (Bertie's father), and it was a good all-round ensemble performance.

The set (designed by Juliet Shillingford) moved seamlessly from the African veldt, to a mountain backdrop in England, with the image of a Lion chalked into the hillside. It transformed into the First World War trenches with sutble use of lighting, and culminated in a dazzling confetti-like shower of blue 'butterflies' at the end. (The title Butterfly Lion refers to the picture of the Lion carved by Bertie and Millie into the chalky hillside, which attracts blue butterflies).

The show, adapted by Daniel Buckroyd (Artistic Director of the Colchester-based Mercury Theatre) is currently on tour and is at the Richmond Theatre this week finishing on Saturday (Nov 9th) so there's not much time to get tickets. However, if you have children who enjoy reading Michael Murpurgo, it is well worth trying to get to see it.

However the Butterfly Lion is a production that can be enjoyed by all ages. My ten-year old commented that it was "very touching" and I agree.

Mon – Sat eves 7.30pm, Wed & Sat mats 2.30pm


The Green, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 1QJ

Box Office: 0844 871 7651 (fees apply) (fees apply)

Tickets £10 - £25


November 7, 2013