It’s perhaps one of the most famous Disney screen to stage adaptations ever made, and perhaps one of the most popular. The Lion King is celebrating it’s twenty first year at the Lyceum Theatre in London’s west end this year and it’s still as popular as when it first opened with the 2,200 seat theatre filled to capacity week in and week out. It is one of those shows that you just feel like you have to see at some point, just so that you can say you have seen it. It has this huge reputation, famed for it’s use of puppetry paired with the famous music we fell in love with in the film. The Lion King has been on my theatre bucket list for years, but it’s just been too expensive. That was until I somehow stumbled across a very reasonably priced front row upper circle ticket and finally took a trip to the pride land.
The Lion King tells the story of Simba as he grows up in the pride lands. With conflict in his family leading to tragic circumstances, Simba is left as an outcast having to battle against his own uncle to gain his rightful position as king. With a book by Irene Mecchi and music and lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice, The Lion King continues to thrill audiences across the world.
A talented cast brings the much loved characters to the stage in a larger than large style, aided by beautiful and cleverly put together costumes. Gugwana Dlamini plays Rafiki with a wonderful sense of comedy in every action and her powerful vocals fill the large auditorium with ease. Shaun Escoffery and George Asprey impress as Mufasa and Scar respectively, with their fight scenes full of fire and passion and Escoffery showing the characters softer side in the scenes with John Madondo as young Simba and Monae Wilson as young Nala. Asprey delights in playing the bad guy, commanding the stage and bossing around the bumbling hyenas.
Nick Afoa shines in the role of Simba. Although he isn’t introduced until the end of the first act, he excites with his passion in the role, leaping around the stage with an apparent ease in this very athletic part. Paired with impressive vocals and a wonderful chemistry with Jamie Mcgregor as Timon, Jamie Golding as Pumbaa and Janique Charles as Nala, it is clear that Afoa is loving every moment of being on stage. Charles’ performance as Nala gives the character a strong and independent edge and a real sense of girl power as Golding and and Mcgregor have the audience in stitches as the much loved warthog and meerkat.
Gary Jordan displays a natural flair for comedy as Zazu, working effortlessly with the puppet and interacting with his cast members brilliantly. I think that Zazu was a firm favourite of many in the audience. Melone M’Kenzy, David Blake and Barnaby Thompson play Shenzi, Banzai and Ed, the three hyenas who hang on Scar’s every word. All funny characters who demand attention with every appearance on the stage, and I can only imagine how hard it must be to wear those costumes, they don’t look like the most comfortable of things.
It is the costumes and the choreography that really steal the show in parts of this production. The Circle of Life sequence is known globally with the stage coming to life with antelopes, elephants and giraffes to name but a few. The costumes, puppets and masks (designed by Julie Taymer and Micheal Curry) are beautiful and intricate, and I marvel over how the talented cast wear them and move in such a way create the animal characters. It cannot be easy to walk on your hands and knees on stilts to be a giraffe or to leap like a gazelle. The choreography by Garth Fagan is clever and energetic, creating hunt scenes and a stampede.
The ensemble have to be praised for they have to play multiple characters, handle songs performed in a number of different languages and perform complex dance routines all whilst also being skilled puppeteers. An impressive performance all round. The set, at first, may appear simplistic but in fact it’s extremely effective. Pride Rock spirals up from under the stage as it tilts upwards and the staging of the stampede works brilliantly.
To conclude, it is really no surprise that The Lion King is still so popular. The fantastic costumes and puppets, combined with great performances from the talented cast creates an exciting show that delights audience members of all ages. The action pours out into the auditorium with cast members appearing in the boxes and puppets even reaching the upper circle, it is an impressive spectacle from beginning to end and I fully expect that there are many more years of success to come for The Lion King.