Vivienne Kennedy reviews Disney’s The Lion King, playing at The Bristol Hippodrome until 23 November 2019.
If you like your theatre spectacular, you won’t want to miss Disney’s The Lion King, starting its new UK tour in Bristol shortly before the 20th anniversary of the West End production, which opened at the Lyceum Theatre on Tuesday 19 October 1999.
A feast of colour and sound from the get go, The Lion King follows the journey of the young lion Simba, from the moment the cub is presented to his future kingdom at Pride Rock, through his childhood to the moment he runs away, believing himself to be responsible for the death of his father Mufasa.
As he grows up we see him enjoy teenage frolics with his friends meerkat Timon and warthog Pumbaa, fully onboard with their motto Hakuna Matata, before his eventual return to the Pridelands to overthrow his evil uncle Scar and take his place as king.
The Circle of Life is completed when his childhood friend Nala joins him on Pride Rock to present their own cub to their subjects.
The production uses not just the stage but the aisles, boxes, and the space above the audiences’ heads. At times there is so much going on, you just don’t know where to look, and the opening number, in particular, is such pure perfection I feel almost tearful watching.
The huge cast of more than 50 actors, singers and dancers use masks, puppets and absolutely stunning costumes to bring the story to life and they don’t put a foot wrong or miss a note. It’s an incredibly physical show and they must be exhausted and quite achy by the end of it, especially those playing animals such as the hyenas, whose backs are constantly bent over.
There is no getting away from the fact that life on the African savannah can be brutal and even those at the top of the food chain don’t always have it easy. But, the more dramatic and tragic moments, which may cause younger audience members to seek reassurance, soon pass, replaced by the next toe-tappingly-good musical number or comedic turn. Some great local references have been added to the script and there’s a nod to Frozen, which opens in the West End next autumn, too.
Age Guidance: The Lion King is recommended for ages 6 and up. Children under 3 years of age are not permitted.
Photo: Dashaun Young (Simba) in Disney’s The Lion King UK & Ireland tour – ® Disney