The Butterfly Lion enters its final week at Chichester Festival Theatre

Alex Webb and Allison McKenzie
Alex Webb and Allison McKenzie

Alex Webb has been in Chichester Festival Youth Theatre for the past four years – and he is loving it.

The fact is that it is giving him some remarkable opportunities.

Last Christmas he was on the main-house stage in the youth theatre’s production of Sleeping Beauty; this summer he featured in the promenade production Crossing Lines; now he is in the Minerva for a new stage adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s modern classic, The Butterfly Lion.

“I have loved learning lots of different skills with the youth theatre, and my confidence has definitely grown,” says 14-year-old Alex, a student at Bishop Luffa. “And I think I have grown as an actor as well.

“I started doing a drama club at school and I thought it was really good fun. I then joined the youth theatre and loved it. Sleeping Beauty was amazing. I loved working with (director) Lucy, and it was great working with lots of other children who were learning to perform. It was my first time on the CFT stage and it was so different. It was so exciting.”

Now comes his Minerva debut.

Combining music, design and puppetry to bring a magical adventure to life, the show celebrates nature, friendship and the triumph of love.

And Alex is thrilled to be part of it, playing young Bertie.

In the story, when Bertie is sent away from the African farm of his childhood to school in England, he leaves behind not only his beloved mother and the beautiful land, swarming with wildlife, but also his best friend – a white lion he rescued as a cub.

Bertie’s struggle to adjust to his new life in harsh, grey England is alleviated only by a chance friendship with the equally lonely Millie and his dreams of his treasured lion, now trapped in a French circus…

“Bertie grows up in Africa and it is the story of how he befriends this white lion club. And then he gets sent to England. Bertie is a really playful and fun character. He finds everything really exciting, which is understandable: he is growing up in Africa with all the different animals. He doesn’t really want to go to England. He is moving away from the places he has known all his life…

“I read the book at primary school and I thought it was a wonderful book, definitely one of my favourite Michael Morpurgo books so it is so exciting to be doing this on stage. Michael Morpurgo came into see one of our rehearsals and he talked to us about how the story came to him and who influenced the story. It was really cool to hear about the character I am playing from the person who created him!”

As for the future, it’s too soon to say whether acting is what Alex wants to do for a career: “But I know that acting is a passion of mine and that I love it and that I always will. I think I just love the chance of being able to be lots of different people. I love that thing of playing different characters.

“It is definitely nerve-racking, especially the first time, but it is such an amazing buzz you get from it. The last night of Sleeping Beauty was really sad. I had made such good friends with the other actors on the show.”

Based on Michael Morpurgo’s best-selling novel, which won the Smarties Prize and the Writers’ Guild Award, the new stage adaptation is written by CFT’s writer-in-residence Anna Ledwich.

Review: The Butterfly Lion at Chichester Festival Theatre

IN PICTURES - The Butterfly Lion

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