Last year Marcelo Dos Santos adapted the Lionboy trilogy for the stage. This winter, the production was revived at the Tricycle Theatre in London and next makes its way to the New Vic! Marcelo is here to tell us about what first attracted him to the books and how he brought them to life.
Tell us what Lionboy is about – in two sentences!
Lionboy is the story of Charlie Ashanti, a boy who can talk to cats (and lions) and whose parents are kidnapped by sinister forces. With the help of his cat friends, Charlie sets about rescuing them, facing all manner of danger and excitement along the way.
What made you want to adapt the books for the stage? Were there any challenges involved?
Zizou Corder’s Lionboy books are part adventure yarn, part political fable. They span continents, and are populated by a huge cast of characters both human and animal. The stories are almost boundless in their ambition. All of which makes them fantastic reads but present challenges in terms of adaptation. Which episodes do you follow? How do you structure it? Where do we finish the story? Oh and what does ‘cat’ sound like?!
How did you solve these challenges?
Rather than showing every moment of Zizou Corder’s novels acted out, I worked with the company to develop a language of storytelling that relies on our audience’s imaginations. When you watch Lionboy, you are being told a story. Using just a few props and some circus skills, our ensemble of actors asks you to imagine a circus ship, a futuristic London, a Moroccan forest and more. Having the audience engaged in this way makes the show a truly theatrical experience, like Complicite’s previous award-winning work.
What most attracted you to adapting the books?
Although Lionboy is definitely an adventure story, the issues and themes are very resonant to what is happening in the world now. The books describe the depletion of natural resources and tackle the powerful forces of corporate self-interest. They ask where our responsibilities lie. For me, the real interest and excitement was in Charlie negotiating this dangerous moral labyrinth and learning about the difficulties of the adult world but also realising his own power to effect change.
Complicite has always been about collaboration and the play was partly developed with the company through a combination of improvisation and devising work. So it was also really exciting for me to work with such intelligent and talented actors and directors! It’s been an adventure in itself getting Lionboy here, I hope you enjoy the ride.