Storytelling is a difficult art to master. It requires passion, belief and commitment. Three things that the cast of Complicité’s latest offering Lion Boy certainly do not lack. Of course it helps to have a story worth telling and the mother-daughter team of Louisa Young and Isabel Adomakoh Young (pen name Zizou Corder) certainly provide that in the form of their trilogy of books, by the same name, that the show is based upon.
The show follows the protagonist, Charlie Ashanti, as he travels from London across Europe in search of his parents who have been abducted at the hands of the evil ‘Corpracy’. Set in a supposedly futuristic world in which corporations have more power than governments and mobile phones are powered by the sun, one organisation rules the roost: the Corpracy, a pharmaceutical company hell bent on blaming cats for the world’s health problems.
The stage is a large faded compass speckled with straw, drums and trinkets just waiting to be picked up and thrown into action. This visually stunning piece uses shadow puppetry, circus skills and live music to draw in its audiences from the get go. The most effective example of this has the cast creating a lion’s head peaking above the horizon of the African savannah and, in the way that only shadow puppetry can, it appears out of nowhere to the amazement of the whole audience.
There is plenty for the mums and dads in this show. Perhaps a little too much as the majority of the humor sees to stem from clever word play or cultural references that would be totally lost on all but the most astute of children. This seemed to be the only downfall of the show. Although overly didactic at times and with an unnecessarily convoluted ending involving a multi-lingual chameleon burrowing into a computer’s hard drive, the overall message of the piece was that of acceptance, love and doing what your heart tells you – and that can only be a good thing. Whilst children should never be talked down to or belittled, as they are far cleverer than they are given credit for, it might be hard for them to follow some of the plot points or more intricate detail in the story. To what extent this would impact upon their enjoyment is uncertain, as fallibility of plot is rarely a key critique made by children.
There is plenty for them to get excited about, including a cleverly constructed boxing match between Charlie and the Corpracy, which is quick, smart and funny. Whilst audience participation is generally kept to a minimum, during this boxing match the audience is encouraged to cheer for Charlie as the actors run up and down the aisle. As it is to be expected when an audience is called upon to participate, having been allowed to remain passive up until this point, it takes them a while to get going, but have no fear, they are soon whipped up into a veritable frenzy by their respective cheerleaders.
This play is definitely one to be enjoyed by the whole family. There is not a single person, old or young, who will not be touched by its wit, charm and warmth.
Lion Boy is playing at the Unicorn Theatre until 21 July. For more information and tickets, see the Unicorn Theatre’s website.