Having experienced the show’s cacophony of colour and sound, Rosie Morton challenges anyone to sit through Disney’s The Lion King and not be moved to tears
IT WAS as if Noah’s Ark had emptied into The Edinburgh Playhouse for a carnival.
The orchestra struck up – accompanied by the playful, earthy vibrations of African drums – and within seconds the entire audience was grinning from ear to ear as a procession of mechanical elephants, cheetahs and gazelles gambolled down the aisles towards the stage.
‘Circle of Life’ reverberated through our chests while shrieks of surprise and delight created an anticipatory hubbub. Soon, every inch of the stage was lit up by lithe puppets which were so deftly operated by the performers that they mimicked each animal’s natural movements beautifully. An unapologetic celebration of life, music and dance, the opening sequence alone proved why Disney’s The Lion King has been viewed by over 110 million people worldwide.
Staying true to the story of the 1994 Disney animated movie, the show follows the life of lion cub Simba as he assumes his destined role as King of the Pridelands, following the death of his father Mufasa. The songs – which were played magnificently and added to every bit of tension, joy and heartache – have stood the test of time, and neither young nor old could resist swaying in their seats. ‘Can You Feel The Love’ was my personal favourite, and while I admit to being an emotional soul, the lump-in-throat-situation I was experiencing was also visibly felt by those around me.
The scenic design, imagined by Wimbledon School of Art-trained Richard Hudson, was nothing short of genius. The silhouettes of all 232 puppets (ranging from rod and shadow puppets, to full-sized 4-metre-long elephants), lit up against a dazzling African sunrise, showcased the intricate beauty of each and every outfit. No detail was left to chance (even African grasses were brought to life by beautiful costumes and excellent performers) making the entire spectacle totally out of the ordinary. The way that depth was created on stage with different sized wildebeest masks during the pivotal stampede scene was completely staggering.
Of course, that’s before we even mention the acting. Thandazile Soni, who plays Mandrill monkey Rafiki, stole the show with her fantastic humour, and her ability to connect with the audience while speaking in African languages was mesmerising. Richard Hurst, who plays Scar, embodied the menace of his character in style, while the lionesque shoulder movements of Jean-Luc Guizonne (AKA Mufasa) were totally inspired.
Without wanting to ruin all of the surprises, The Lion King production is every bit as moving as the original movie. Being completely immersed in the cacophony of colour and sound, and feeling the characters swing past you in the aisles rendered this a unique, memorable experience for all.
When a show comes so highly recommended, there is a danger that it doesn’t live up to the hype. This landmark musical, however, exceeded all expectations. As a well earned standing ovation was given, I stood there in awe – this is, quite simply, theatre at its very best.
Disney’s The Lion King will be shown from now until 2 July at The Edinburgh Playhouse. The running time is 2 hours 35 minutes, including an interval. To find out more, or to purchase tickets, please click HERE.
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