I will begin this review by saying that – in a nutshell – words alone could not do justice to the sheer brilliance of the performance of The Lion King that we attended last month.
It may have been running since 1999, but it has taken this long for me to see this show – and my God! What an experience! Having splashed out a little on the accommodation (and I don’t begrudge a single penny), I bought us the cheapest tickets possible for the show from the Box Office website. Grand Circle (i.e. two tiers up), but sat one row from the front and just slightly off-centre in proportion to the stage, we had perfect seats – and could see everything (view pictured). All that for £47.50 per ticket. Remember – this is a West End show in London. You’re not going to get much cheaper than that!
Ambient music of African birds and such start playing in the background while you wait for the performance to start. And then the theatre darkens, and anyone who has seen the Disney film knows how it starts – with the first epic number “The Circle of Life” – the heart starts racing when the curtain rises and you see a single performer, lit only from the feet down, who turns out to be Rafiki, who provides the main vocals throughout the song. The stage version changed the character to be female in order to compensate the male-dominated cast, and in this instance the character was played by South African perfomer and West End debutante Brown Lindiwe Mkhize. The woman’s vocals were stunning and she did great justice to the part throughout the whole show, invoking enormous humour and comic timing – particularly a part within which she speaks entirely in an African click language (very interesting to listen to), dancing as she does so, before addressing an audience member with: “Do you understand?”
The eyes cannot concentrate on any single element of the performance for longer than a few seconds, because there is so much going on. The stage opens up and scenery spirals out of it, the various dancers – it’s equally as interesting to watch the drummers situated in lower royal boxes either side (royal boxes pictured). For “The Circle of Life“, those boxes are arguably one of the best places to sit, as in the opening call-and-response of the song, members of the ensemble actually sing from them, regardless of whether there’s anyone sat there.
Other performers that I have to commend are George Asprey, who played main villain Scar with a perfect level of sarcasm, but also in a way that oozed malevolence and evil, and Howard Gossington, who played Zazu. Jeremy Irons and Rowan Atkinson respectively played these characters in the Disney film and both are among my favourite actors (not least because I actually share my birthday with Atkinson). Gossington’s portrayal of Zazu, which is no easy job having to be a puppeteer, dancer and voice actor all in one, bordered on pantomime at times, such as comparing to the theatre curtain with its ornate African design as a shower curtain from Ikea. A majorly funny moment, one of my favourite to remember actually, was Zazu singing the chorus to “Let It Go” following his capture by Scar midway through the musical.
One memorable scene was the Stampede, which I had wondered how they would achieve onstage, being such an intense scene in its animated counterpart. Involving revolving cylindrical stage “furniture”, which give the impression of wildebeest charging down a hill and gradually getting nearer, I was incredibly impressed – it really makes the blood boil and leave you on edge the whole time. And then you know what’s going to happen afterwards – a very sad moment follows, and I must admit a few tears were shed.
I can only say that to say I recommend anyone and everyone to see this show would be an understatement. Even to those who are openly against musicals or theatre in general – The Lion King is a cultural experience in its own category. It was the first West End show I saw since 2010 when I saw We Will Rock You at the Dominion – and that was a pretty unique experience too. I personally think that a person hasn’t completely seen London until they’ve seen a West End show.