Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 1 January 2015


Tricycle Theatre ⋄ 17th December 2014 - 10th January 2015

A roaring boy.

Maddy Costa

Complicite’s adaptation of Zizou Corder’s Lionboy series should come with a subtitle: “Every life message you ever wanted to impart to your eldest child but couldn’t communicate to her yourself, despite regularly soliciting advice from the friend who has read all the parenting guides published in the past decade and quoting verbatim the excellent lessons that supersmart grown-ups cherish hearing from their parents, because your child – not yet the recommended age for reading the Lionboy books, mind – has already decided you are top of the list of Most Boring People In The World and learned how to turn off her ears.”

Within minutes of discovering that his provokingly perfect parents have been kidnapped, hero Charlie Ashanti reveals the first (let’s call this lesson 1) of their maxims, “Nullius in Verba”, along with their translation: “Take nobody’s word for it, and always ask questions.”(And if you think it’s far-fetched that modern parents would speak to their child in Latin, you clearly don’t have a research scientist who is also a fellow of the Royal Society in your family.) This saves him from the clutches of the dastardly Rafi, a teenager already brainwashed by The Corporacy, a generic monster of global capitalism (lesson 2) that is monopolising the market in asthma inhalers – while, it soon emerges, breeding animals to be allergenies, creatures that exacerbate asthmatic conditions. (Avoiding the sledgehammer approach to left-wing politics is not one of the lessons here. I’m fine with that.)

Charlie’s parents also brought him up to be impeccably polite (lesson 3), which is how he befriends a fisherman with a basket of eels (lesson 4: the eels are represented by wet pieces of bicycle inner tubes – any old rubbish can be used to make theatre!) and escapes on to a circus ship bound for Paris. (The fisherman also delivers lesson 5: that lies – slippery things that they are – can be useful sometimes. Tricksy, that one.) On the ship, Charlie meets people even stranger than he is (lesson 6: don’t feel bad for not being like other folk – feel brilliant), and a pride of mournful lions, with whom he can communicate, because he speaks cat, but also because he has empathy (somewhat oblique, but lesson 7 none the less). Uncertain whether to keep searching for his parents or help the lions escape their trainer, the villainous Maccomo (who presents lesson 8 in negative: exercising power is the only way to negotiate with people. Wrong, wrong, wrong), Charlie goes back to that store of maxims: “Do the right thing” (lesson 9) and “Follow your heart, trust your guts” (lesson 10). And in case this is beginning to sound dreadfully worthy, Charlie along the way learns that bearded ladies are lovely (lesson 11) and there’s not much in the world that looks more fun than spinning around in a hooped trapeze while dressed in glittering sequins (lesson 12).

Lions safely deposited in their Moroccan homeland, Charlie has a spasm of despair, but he’s saved by the arrival of a wise chameleon called Ninu, who notes: “You only feel scared when you’re alone” (lesson 13). Ninu helps Charlie find the HQ of The Corporacy, where another blip of anxiety is swept away by returning again to helpful parental precepts: “When you don’t know what to do, marshal your thoughts and breathe” (lesson 14). This one powers Charlie through a boxing match with Rafi, through which the CEO of The Corporacy intends to prove that his company is a force for good.

Naturally, Charlie triumphs, because he understands something vital about humanity: capitalists might argue that it’s in our nature to compete, but we’re “hard-wired to cooperate, too” (lesson 15). In fact, lessons come thick and fast here: home isn’t defined by materialism (16); this planet is our only home (17), so it’s paramount that humans care for it (18, possibly one of the few not explicitly spelled out).

By which point (and apologies if you think this is heavy on spoilers, but this isn’t a show that keeps its cards hidden), even an ardent climate-change-campaigning anticapitalist might feel frustrated by the lack of subtlety in Marcelo Dos Santos’ script. But a) if my eldest is anything to go by, kids struggle to figure out what constitutes good and bad, let alone what the nuance might be between them, so I’m fine with that too, and b) this is Complicite! There are people slinking around like lithe and haughty cats, and neat bits of puppetry, and Clive Mendus as the CEO with beady Big Brother eyes trained menacingly on the audience, and altogether a quality of rough-hewn sophistication that softens the bluntness and energises proceedings. I haven’t read the original trilogy, so maybe I’m more willing to enjoy what is on stage than mourn what isn’t. But then, there’s always lesson 19 to heed: there’s more than one way to tell a story – and if you don’t like this one, it’s up to you to tell it anew.


Maddy Costa

Maddy Costa is a writer, dramaturg, researcher into socially engaged/participatory/community arts, daydreamer and fan of dogs. She works in collaboration with other artists/writers, including Andy Field on the Tiny Letter project Criticism and Love, and Mary Paterson and Diana Damian Martin on Something Other and The Department of Feminist Conversations. Things she likes making include zines, prints, spaces for conversation, cakes and 1950s-style frocks. She hosts a pop-up “book group for performance” called Theatre Club where she has all her best conversations about theatre.

Lionboy Show Info

Produced by Complicite

Directed by Clive Mendus, James Yeatman

Cast includes Femi Elufowoju, Victoria Gould, Martins Imhangbe, Lisa Kerr, Angel Lopez-Silva, Eric Mallett, Clive Mendus, Dan Milne, Stephen Hiscock




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