Venue: The Palace Theatre, Manchester
Growing up as a ‘90s kid, Walt Disney played an integral role in my childhood and when I heard that the West End theatrical masterpiece of The Lion King was coming to the Palace Theatre in Manchester, I knew it would be a sin not to jump on the train and witness it as a perfectly acceptable way to relive my younger years.
Opening with an array of brightly dressed dancers appearing from all corners of the audience to the striking and unmistakable tones of ‘The Circle of Life’, it was a climax of emotion for me as the stage developed into a colourful and outstanding scene of Africa before my very eyes. To witness the film I had watched repeatedly as a child being recreated in such a way was inspirational; the remarkable sound of the live orchestra combined with the visually pleasing and incredibly designed costumes gave the creative team something to be proud of. Lions, elephants, antelope, zebras.. you name it, the talented costume designer Julie Taymor had found a way to transform the dancers into the population of Pride Rock. Viewing a stage crammed with performers, there was constantly something new to catch my eye, to take my breath away; literally in my sister’s case as a result of a snapping hyena creeping up on her from the back of the audience. This interaction with those watching merely built on the spectacle that proved it to be a show to remember. The dedication that had gone into the scene creation and costume design was apparent, though I did fear for the man posing as a giraffe. Walking on all fours on stilts did not look fun.. as I was fortunate enough to have front row seats, I could see that he was pretty apprehensive about it too.
The joy of these scenes representing the natural beauty of Africa were dramatically juxtaposed with the darkness of the ‘Pride Lands’ by a very smooth and impressive set change, introducing Scar played by George Asprey, who perfectly combined his character’s cynicism with light humour to entertain the adults who were (supposedly) dragged along with their children. A Glaswegian Zazu emphasised the British flare added by the London Company, humorously recreating The Proclaimers’ ‘I would walk 500 miles’ in an attempt to entertain an irritated Scar. The impressively designed puppets of Timon and Pumbaa also supplied their fair share of humour, comically performing the Riverdance, making this family show as entertaining for the parents as it was for their delighted children (and therefore making me feel less ashamed for turning up with four other adults).
Yet it was not all laughter and dancing; I’m pretty sure it is safe to say there was not a dry eye in the room when Simba realised his father wasn’t waking up. Proceeded by the most visually striking scene of the show, the antelope stampede, the audience was in awe as Scar let Mufasa dramatically fall to his death.. even despite the fact that we all knew it was coming.
All in all, it was a delightful excuse to revisit those precious moments of singing away to ‘Hakuna Matata’.. not to mention the vital life guidance it provides. I well and truly ‘forgot my worries for the rest of my days’, and instead found myself dancing along to the colourful and inspirational numbers; and embarrassingly enough filling up at ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight?’. The only slight criticism I could possibly make would be that the young Simba, played by Anton Joseph, may have let the team down with his slightly questionable British-American accent, yet he was so adorable that I really do not think it made a serious difference to what was a truly breath-taking show. With an incredible soundtrack from a combination of Elton John and Tim Rice and a talented production group from the West End, it is no surprise that this spectacle is well and truly worth a watch; the restored Lion King 3D has got nothing on this theatrical experience of a lifetime.