The Lion King, Lyceum Theatre – review

Published: Tuesday, October 6, 2015 10:39 AM | Review by: Gillian Fisher |
Disney's The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre, London. Photo by Brinkoff and Mogenburg Disney's The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre, London. Photo by Brinkoff and Mogenburg

The cast come together like a well-oiled machine, each scene is meticulously arranged and performed faultlessly.


After 16 years at the Lyceum, Disney’s The Lion King is still top of the theatre food-chain. This show dazzles the senses in an eruption of rousing music, stunning puppetry and mesmerising scenery. Directed by Julie Taymor, the show recreates the 1994 animation in glorious 3D, bringing the much loved characters to life. Sticking closely to the original film, the opening number is an almost shot by shot re-enactment of the famous ‘Circle of Life’ scene. A dappled sun slowly rises as the African creatures leap, totter and prowl their way to Pride Rock. There are whoops of delight from the audience’s child portion as an elephant and rhino stomp merrily through the aisles. Conga drums and caxixi beat an African rhythm as the giraffes, antelope and leopards rejoice at the birth of their future king. With the South African savanna magnificently corporealized, there is more to see than can ever be seen.


Translating such a cinematic piece to the stage is a triumph of theatre-craft. The recreation of multiple landscapes and African wildlife has required some incredible creative ingenuity. The set is in a constant state of transformation, with various trap doors, show decks and elaborate scenery pieces. Designed by Zimbabwean Richard Hudson, the audience is seamlessly transported from lush jungle to elephant graveyard. The iconic Pride Rock is on a concealed revolve which rises and sinks from the boards and Hudson’s recreation of a rapidly gaining wildebeest stampede is simply genius. The ensemble form a key part of the show’s landscape, their costumes representing blooming plants in a series of choreographed scenes. Designed Garth Fagan, the choreography is eclectic, combining elements of African ritual and western dance styles. Often expressing the mood of a scene, Fagan’s work adds some modernity to the proceedings, such as the hyenas’ Milli Vanilli routine.


Disney's The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre, London. Photo by Brinkoff and Mogenburg Disney's The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre, London. Photo by Brinkoff and Mogenburg

The karaoke classics such as ‘Hakuna Matata’ take on a new vigour when performed live. There are also some additions to the score, provided by South African composer, Lebo M. Resonant mbube numbers and chanting melodies evoke a vivid impression of Africa. Great emphasis is placed upon the locale in the stage production, with six African languages appearing in the songs and bold African prints featuring strongly. The costumes also enhance the tribal tone and are a fusion of Masai warrior dress, Balinese beading and Samurai robes.


The Noah’s Ark of wildlife in this production has to be seen to be believed. The show’s 232 puppets are designed by director, Julie Taymor in collaboration with Michael Curry. Various puppet forms are utilised, shadow figures recreate chase scenes and kite puppets fill the theatre with tropical birds. Comedy duo Pumba (Keith Bookman) and Timon (Richard Frame) are especially striking. Pumba is a full-body puppet complete with a snuffling nose and a waggling tongue. His wise-guy companion Timon, is a humanette puppet which mirrors the actor’s movements. Having both actor and puppet visible creates what Taymor describes as a ‘double event.’ This combination of animal movements and human emotion allows a fantastic range of expression. A few of the creatures are purely fanciful, such as the multi-coloured forms which traverse the stage during the ‘I Just Can’t Wait To Be King’ anthem.’ The cheeky lion cubs enter the scene on a pair of psychedelic ostrich figures, creating a sense of African carnival.


Disney's The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre, London. Photo by Brinkoff and Mogenburg Disney's The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre, London. Photo by Brinkoff and Mogenburg

Pure entertainment and wonderful fun for the whole family, this on stage extravaganza is the king of the west end jungle.


The cast come together like a well-oiled machine, each scene is meticulously arranged and performed faultlessly. The singing is of an excellent standard, ‘Can you Feel the Love Tonight’ sung by Nala (Ava Brennan) and Simba (Jonathan Andrew Hume) being particularly operatic. The narrative works primarily as a vehicle for the stunning theatrical arrangements, but is nonetheless well portrayed. There is little scope for character development, but Scar (George Asprey) is broodingly menacing and gold garbed Mufasa (Shaun Escoffery) is wonderfully regal. Having a female Rafiki is an interesting twist, and Brown Lindiwe Mkhize plays the jaunty shaman figure splendidly.


Disney’s The Lion King delivers on every level. An absolute feast for the eyes it conveys the audience to an exotic realm of animal magic. I am no west end snob; one of the best shows I ever saw was above a pub and had a cast of two, one of whom was a gibbon. But when it comes to sheer spectacle and theatrical flair, this show is superlative. Pure entertainment and wonderful fun for the whole family, this on stage extravaganza is truly the king of the west end jungle.



Disney's The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre, London. Photo by Brinkoff and Mogenburg Disney's The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre, London. Photo by Brinkoff and Mogenburg

Info: The Lion King is at London’s Lyceum Theatre / book tickets




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