Review: The Lion King is a royal appointment you cannot miss
- Credit: Archant
There is something about those first few bars of The Circle Of Life that cut right through you.
I still remember excitedly going to the cinema to see The Lion King when I was eight years old, and at the opening night of the stage adaptation at Bristol's Hippodrome Theatre last night (Thursday), those decades-old feelings returned and then some.
Such was my excitement when I heard those first few bars as Rafiki began the call of 'Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba', this cynical 33-year-old become a kid again, if only for a couple of hours.
The Lion King on stage truly is a sight to behold, using a heady mix of incredible puppetry, clever costuming and flawless staging the classic tale is brought to life before your eyes with the same heart and magic found in the Oscar-winning movie which inspired it.
Much like the film. The Lion King is a show packed with sensational set pieces, which place the audience right in the heart of the action, none more so than in its opening with animals appearing all over the theatre, with gigantic elephants, rhinos, wilder beasts and a myriad of other animals all headed from the back of the theatre towards the stage to pay their respects to the new royal arrival.
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The staging is also impeccable, combining imposing backdrops, clever uses of screens, shadow puppets and an ensemble cast who literally bring the African savannah to life, taking turns playing everything from crawling ants to leaping antelope, trees, bushes and everything in between.
Performances from the primary cast are flawless throughout, though admittedly some scenes felt jarring, at least to being with, especially from Scar and Mufasa, but with legendary performances from Jeremy Irons and James-Earl Jones to live up to it was always going to be difficult for any cast.
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However, Richard Hurst's portrayal of Scar and Jean-Luc Guizonne as Mufasa came pretty close.
Hurst was a particular treat, and brought an almost Shakespearian bent to his portrayal of the villainous and conniving Scar, limping across the stage with the use of a cane like a feline Richard III,
While watching a cackle of hyenas jackbooting across the stage during be prepared was one of the highlights of the first act.
However, much like the original film, it was Zasu (Matthew Forbes) and Rafiki (Thandazile Soni) who stole the show. Forbes expert puppet work hilarious jibes, asides, and perfect comic timing made the put upon royal vizier in many ways the real star of the show.
Likewise, Soni's turn as wise old lunatic Rafiki was simply spell-binding, swinging across the stage, breaking the fourth wall, and speaking almost entirely in a captivating blend of Khoisan, and other African languages.
Though for the best part it is a recreation of the film, there are some notable additions for the stage, though not all hit the mark, Nala is given a bigger part, and more agency than in the original movie, likewise Simba is given more time in the wilderness with Timone and Pumba, which can never be a bad thing. This results in their eventual reunion and conflict making a lot more sense.
However, the throw away subplot which saw Scar try to make Nala his queen is, to be frank, creepy, weird and completely unnecessary.
This minor gripe aside, The Lion King is a masterpiece, a phenomenal achievement for everyone involved and its plain to see why it has been a mainstay of both the West End and Broadway for the past 20 years.
If you have not already booked your tickets, try to snap up the few remaining, offer to sit on the floor if you have to, The Lion King is one regal treat you really do not want to miss.
The Lion King is at The Bristol Hippodrome until November 23.
Tickets, priced £20-£95, are available here, or from the box office on 08448 713012.