The production company behind The Lion King, Disney, are possibly the closest thing mankind has to the makers of magic, and their musical films bring pleasure universally to young and old. It seems that after 15 years in London, they are still getting that magic recipe just right, as the theatre was packed out on this Wednesday night, and I’m told that’s the norm. And it’s not surprising. The Lion King is truly a thing of wonder, and yet not quite in the normal ‘Disney way’. There is little in the way of cuteness and soft lines here; Disney’s signature look gives way to angular, lean and muscular lines instead, both in the cast and the machinery involved.
The story of this lion cub and his journey to becoming King of the Pridelands in the African Serengeti is widely-known and much-loved as an animated film, but to bring it to the stage provided numerous obvious challenges. Whilst the cast is strong, talented and energetic, the stars of this production are undoubtedly the set and costumes. From the moment the incredible animals parade through the auditorium towards the stage in the opening sequence, you know you’re in for a real treat. The production is visually stunning: rich, colourful and hugely atmospheric. Set and lighting combine to form a myriad of stage settings as deep and immersive as you can imagine. And then they are dressed with these incredibly clever costumes turning humans intriguingly into animals. The show has been running so long now that I defy anyone to not have an awareness of the look of these pieces, but to see them in action is jaw-droppingly effective.
To have found someone with the vision, imagination, and ingenuity of director and costume designer Julie Taymor to create the design for this musical has surely been one of the greatest finds in the development of musical theatre. The look of The Lion King is so impressive and so completely different to anything else out there, it makes for a wonderfully memorable and unique theatrical experience to watch these incredible mechanics bring such a vivid landscape to life in front of our eyes. In a theatre world now full of technical feats accomplished with projections and high-tech hydraulic sets, I feel this is a triumph of design in its purest form. Some will say that the show now does not keep up with the many developments in puppetry in the last 15 years and that much more clever and impressive technology is available now, and this may be true but I can’t say it bothered me.
A mention should go to the performance which, for me, was the stand-out of the night, and that was Mark McGee covering the role of Timon. Hilarious and endearing, Mark alongside Keith Bookman as Pumbaa brought the laughs of the evening. Other than this, I can’t say this is the strongest principal cast I’ve seen in the West End, although I did enjoy Brown Lindiwe Mkhize’s performance as Rafiki.
If you have never seen The Lion King before, or even if you have, keep going back to keep this show alive. It thoroughly deserves its longstanding place on the map of London’s Theatreland.
Review by Nikki Laurence
The Lion King
Evenings: Tuesday to Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday 2.30pm
Running Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
Age Restrictions: The Lion King is recommended for children aged 6 and over.
Under-3s will not be admitted.
Show Opened: 12th October 1999
Important Info: PLEASE NOTE: strobe lighting is used several times during the performance. Children under the age of 3 will not be admitted. Children over 3 will be admitted, but they must be able to sit in their own seat quietly throughout the performance.