Playing at the Lyceum Theatre, Lion King has become a staple of the West End. Based on the Disney film, Lion King tells the story of a young lion destined to become King of Pride Rock, only to suffer a tragedy of the death of his father that forces him to flee. On the run, he befriends a meerkat and a warthog who take him in and persuade him to forget about his past and enjoy life in the present. With desperation reaching high at Pride Rock, Simba’s old friend Nala finds him and encourages him to go back home and in challenging his uncle for the throne, take his place as King.
Immediately from the start, they establish the scenery that is associated with Pride Rock and you are drawn in. I enjoyed the brightness of the colours in every scene but also how they very much changed the scenery for every different environment they used. The props were used very well in constructing the scenes, for example, I enjoyed the series of props which were used in the sequence “I just can’t wait to be King”. In this sequence, young Simba and Nala were seated on top of two ostrich props similar to the movie, which shows that they studied it closely and tried to bring every aspect to life. The cast actively interacted with the props, using them physically within each scene.
The puppetry and the costumes had clearly been adapted for stage use and it was easy to identify who was who in the play from the main lion actors having to wear a customised mask which is positioned on top of their heads and came down to the middle of their brow. I felt this was more inventive as it would have been really hard to give a real performance if they were dressed in a hot full lion costume. As well as the masks, the actors had face paint and costuming that allowed them to blend into the background. The lions and other main creatures such as the hyenas, Timon, Pumba and Zazu used the same style of costuming whereas other animal characters used puppets where the actor was disguised or in matching face paint to their animal. The overall puppetry was very creative in the design and realistic as they added to the ambience of the stage play. Where some of the stand in the cast was just there to stand or control the animal puppets the actor controlling Zazu, Timon and Pumba were able to add comedic roles to their performance.
While they are able to keep to the plot of the film, the stage play adds comedic twists to the actor’s performances and are able to keep it relevant with contemporary jokes and references. One character which is particularly funny is Zazu who must remain serious due to his role in the King’s Court but often says amusing things in trying to be so. One of the songs that keep changing to stay current is the song that Zazu sings when he is with Scar in his cage. As well as comedic twists, the stage show adds new scenes that add depth to the story and new more complex motives to the characters.
Each of the cast gave distinct performances and sang very well as their characters. I really enjoyed Timon and Pumba’s rendition of Hakuna Matata because in singing the song they used the whole stage and had fun with it. I also found Nala’s solo really touching and it was a stand out performance. The whole cast makes ample use of the entire stage and props as they perform the scenes and though it is sometimes just talking they are able to project and add liveliness to even the most serious of conversations.
I would most definitely recommend this production of the Lion King as it brings this wonderful, joyful classic to life for all the family to enjoy, with new layers of comedic scenes and heartwarming moments in every performance.