Pleasance and Lionheart Productions present
A UK Premiere adapted from the novel by Astrid Lindgren author of the Pippi Longstocking tales
The Brothers Lionheart
Director: Simon Fielder
17 April – 3 May 2009
A review by Peter Carrington for EXTRA! EXTRA!
On the surface The Brothers Lionheart is a simple fantasy novel reminiscent of C.S Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. But underneath that surface of swords and sorcery, like Narnia it does not shy from adult themes. The tone of any production will have to reconcile the themes, which is not an easy task. This production is the UK Premiere adaptation of the novel by Astrid Lindgren and Peter Gallagher and Richard Storry have the courage of the titular heroes to attempt it.
The story focuses on Karl Lion, played by Charles Buck, who is terminally ill at the beginning of the play and looks up to his brother Johnathan. Johnathan, (the irrepressible Thomas Haise) tells him of an afterlife full of adventure and saga named ‘Nangiyala’. When a house fire traps Karl his brother sacrifices himself to save Karl. The brothers are reunited in Nangiyala, which is a fantasy land just as they imagined but under threat from the tyrannical Tengil (Jack Taylor), his ally the Dragon Katla and his army of evil soldiers. It is up to the reunited Brothers Lionheart to save Nangiyala.
The story is compelling, even if much of the dialogue is reduced to exposition in order to keep the story flowing into the two hour long acts. Charles Buck portrays Karl’s innocence and courage without ever seeming forced. Gary Wilson and Dewi Evans stalk the stage as evil guards Veder and Kader, delightfully malevolent in their posturing. Jack Taylor shoulders the part of Jossi expertly. Keith Parry is well cast as Mathias, the grandfather figure of the brothers in Nangiyala. The sense from the cast is generally one of enjoyment, lending a cameraderie to the proceedings beyond the moral of the piece.
The play is enhanced by a screen hanging from the back, depicting the sky of the various locales the heroes find themselves in. This is a good way of demonstrating travel, and combined with the able sound and lighting adds to the experience greatly. The screen also allows for Katla the dragon to have a dynamic presence which does not require a large prop or other trickery to conjour the dragon. The costumes are distinctive in their design and pitched perfectly for a fantasy setting without being outlandish. The design of the production as a whole is good, but there are a few places where the reach of the play exceeds the grasp.
These missed steps are few but are like itches which one is unable to scratch. Due to the pace of the adventure, many of the morals of the play are over so quickly as to deprive them of any drama. Particularly the adult themes concerning death, treachery and pacifism are dealt with in swift scenes, quickly resolved and robbing them of their impact. The stage crew work extremely hard on the cumbersome set and there were a few technical glitches but these could happen to anyone. The musical numbers, while well suited to the play seem like the songs in the ill-fated Lord of the Rings musical, shoe-horned into scenes, enjoyable but as a musical it is underdeveloped. Perhaps because the exposition required so much stage time the musical elements had to be tamed, thus denying The Brothers Lionheart the greater depth a musical could have provided.
The Brothers Lionheart is an ambitious work and in places it excels, when the cast and crew take delight in their work. In trying to reach so high there are a few targets the production misses but as an entertaining fantasy adventure it succeeds.
Tickets £10 (£8 concessions) Family ticket (4 tickets) £30
Carpenter Mews, North Road, London, N7 9JF