Theatre Review: Lionboy (Tricycle Theatre, London)

Roaring to go. The cast of 'Lionboy'. Photograph:  Courtesy of Sarah Ainslie.

Roaring to go. The cast of ‘Lionboy’. Photograph: Courtesy of Sarah Ainslie.

Rating: ****

In A Nutshell

A show of sound, fury, and splendour. A big top of imagination and ingenuity bringing Zizou Corder’s modern fairytale to vivid life.


In a future were mobile phones are powered by the sun and cars are banned, corporations are more powerful than countries. When Charlie Ashanti’s parents, who were working on a cure for asthma, get kidnapped by The Corporacy, he enters into a world of corruption, danger, and misapplied science. Oh, and Charlie can also speak to cats…

Writing & Adaptation

Zizou Corder, the alias of mother and daughter writing team Louisa Young and Isabel Adomakoh Young, has created an incredibly modern and current children’s book. Lionboy is choc-full modern issues from bad science, to identity and belonging, to environmentalism, and even a complex lesson in avarice and wealth. An older audience might think that such issues might be a bit too mature for younger audiences. But this is proved wrong given the age of one half of Corder, and, looking at the reactions to some of the more youthful patrons in the theatre, it goes to show that children are far more savvy than we give them credit for. Simultaneously, it gives enough meat for older audiences to get stuck into too. As well as a wealth of colourful imagination and vision, this books’ depth and a complexity is miracle-fodder for acclaimed theatre company, Complicite, in adapting this prize-winning trilogy into a blistering piece of theatre.

Complicite throw everything they’ve got at the show – puppetry, physical theatre, circus skills, and shadow-work – to create a smorgasbord of visuals and energies that inject an overwhelming assault on the senses. This adds a vital variety to the show that will dazzle elders and keep younger ones engaged.

However, this is perhaps the show’s only drawback. Each trope carries it’s own identity and flow, and having so many of these causes the pacing to fly around a little unwieldy at times, also making slower more intimate moments of the show a little sluggish by comparison. Ultimately, whilst Complicite may have found many things which connect with the audience in many ways, there’s not a consistent overall sense of atmosphere and direction.

However, in saying that, the central essence of the show is storytelling. For all the tricks and spectacles they bring out, nothing is allowed to distract from a very pure and glorious focus on this. Everything that makes the show beguiling is the story’s words and how they’re delivered to the audience. All the stagecraft that is used on top of this just grabs your attention and decorates this most crucial element of the show. The simple weaving a world from words is still there, breaking the fourth wall often and regaling the audience directly with enchanting silver tongues. Even without the kaleidoscope of stagecraft, you’d still be hooked by the tale’s delivery.


Direction & Production

There are far too many things going on in the production to try and cover everything. But in it’s very basic form, imagination is what drives the entire show. The steeply raked circus stage and giant flyable screen form a focal point for everything that goes on around it. But otherwise the show creates scenes from very little, such as chrome walls and hidden passages from steel ladders, eels from rubber tubing, and even a pursuit through the bustling streets of London using only boxes and bits of rope.

One thing that is incredibly remarkable and works wonders is the sound design. A collection of deafening soundscapes and soundtracks are blasted into the audience, submerging people aurally as well as visually. In addition, there is a bevy of live percussion that augments the thunderous noise that Complicite produce. It’s literally tremendous, making building and persons shake with its sheer sound and effect.

Couple this with face paced and exotic visuals, peppered with blinding and dazzling lighting, and you’ve got a production that can only be described as “otherworldly”. Directors Clive Mendus and James Yeatman constantly stir the senses, seldom letting the audience have any reprieve until at least the interval: leaving you dumb and astonished for most of the show. If you’re you’ve not found yourself in a stupor for even a small part, then you need to get your humours checked.


Complicite has an exceptional cast on board for this revival with all actors being expert storytellers of the finest pedigree. Martins Imhangbe particularly, as Charlie the Lionboy gives an exquisite physical performance, switching between him and the felines he converses with, embodying cat and human with astonishing believability and lightning change.

It’s so difficult to pick out any other favourite moments from the rest of the cast without making this review into an essay. Needless to say, each bring their own talent and personality to all the multiple roles they play. They all each have wonderful turns in interacting with interacting with the audience too. As a company they’re a sheer delight to watch.


Bombastic and beautiful, Complicite is the cat with the cream of London theatre in the return of their celebrated adaptation of this modern and current children’s epic. A family spectacular like no other, there’s no excuse for “lion” about and not seeing this show!


Lionboy plays at Tricycle Theatre, London, NW6 7JR, until 10 January 2015. Tickets are £16 – £23.50 (concessions and family rates available). To book, visit

About James Waygood

Half-Welsh, half-Chinese British writer living and working in Poland. Ex-theatre and film critic, and avid gamer, he has a passion for anything interesting. View all posts by James Waygood

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