Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Tuesday 18th June, 2013
Much-feted theatre company Complicite attempts its first show for families and young children with this adaptation of Zizou Corder’s fantasy novels. On the face of it, the story of Charlie Ashanti, a boy who can talk to cats, on a quest to rescue his scientist parents who have been kidnapped by an evil corporation (is there any other kind?), seems very promising for an exciting piece of theatre. Unfortunately, this production is swamped by the telling, the action swamped by overly-narrated passages.
Narrative theatre allows you to stage the unstageable. You can describe something you can’t depict and the audience will provide their own special effects in their imaginations. The problem with this production, is the audience is required to do too much of the work. It’s all about the telling and not the showing. The words seem to have been given prominence at the expense of everything else. It’s a very demanding listen. I found I could close my eyes and miss nothing. It was like listening to a radio play.
The cast of seven (plus a percussionist) mill around, looking busy, but adding very little to the scenes. The show is curiously lacking in the theatrical invention for which the company is renowned. It ambles along and everyone is very earnest. As well as some theatricality at which we can marvel, it also needs more variety in tone; it needs more light and shade, more fun and more jeopardy.
And more lions. There are a couple of attempts to conjure up lions with some shadowplay. The actors suddenly crouching and snarling didn’t really cut it for me.
The messages conveyed by the piece seem to be: it’s all right to be different – as long as you’re polite; it’s acceptable to hack into a corporation’s mainframe; if you’re going to release thousands of animals from a laboratory, let them all out at the same time, predators and prey – it doesn’t matter!
I liked the theme that the corporation who provides (i.e.sells) all health care is actively seeking to make people ill in order to sell more medicine. The story is supposedly set in the near-future. The conspiracy theorist in me thinks it’s more a case of any day now.
Unfortunately, the final showdown between Charlie (Adetomiwa Edun) and the CEO (Victoria Gould) is staged as a metaphorical boxing match. The characters spout their points, facing outwards, and then mime being clobbered by each other. It’s like old-fashioned agit-prop, but the choreography and the timing really need tightening if this is to be as punchy as it needs to be.
A disappointing version, then, bogged down by its own verbosity. When characters, rather than conversing, narrate their side of the conversation, you know an editor is desperately needed. Not so much a dramatisation as a prepared reading, Lionboy lacks bite.