Review: The Lion King
Written by Jamie Griffiths on March 15, 2023
Review: The Lion King
08/03/2023 – Palace Theatre, Manchester by Tiffany Chevis
From Rafiki’s first iconic note, the magic of The Lion King fills the theatre, becoming more awe-inspiring as each creature takes to the stage. Translating a beloved animated film into a physical space is no mean feat, and yet nearly 25 years after its first staging on the West End, this production continues to captivate audiences. The story of a young lion cub faced with political motivations, violence, and self-discovery resonate through years and cultures, whether familiar with the Disney film or new to the entire tale.
Despite – or perhaps because of – the show’s longevity, Richard Hudson’s scenic design remains the same, encapsulating the heat of the Serengeti and the depth of the jungle with wonderfully tactile fabrics and standing creations. Whilst other productions have incorporated digital elements over the years, the retention of physical set pieces is timeless rather than outdated.
Julie Taymor – who is also director – and Michael Curry’s mask designs and puppetry are breath-taking whether it’s your first time at the show or you’re a regular. Combining these with Michael Ward’s hair and makeup design, the characters shine whether looking at the actors’ faces or the intricate headpieces.
For the UK and Ireland tour, Richard Hurst plays the villainous Scar, the beleaguered brother of King Mufasa. All great villains are British, and his dripping velvet tones entice his young nephew Simba into trusting him, only to break out into powerful song as he raves in his lair. Against this is Jean-Luc Guizonne as Mufasa, with a quiet strength and power that is both paternal and terrifying. The rendition of They Live In You between father and son is touching and inspiring in equal parts, building up a great sense of love that underpins the narrative.
In what is, at its core, a somewhat harrowing story, the light relief comes in the form of Zazu, Timon and Pumbaa. Zazu is a red-billed hornbill, Mufasa’s chief steward and unwilling guardian of Simba – played by Matthew Forbes, he is both butler and clown. His clipped accent coats cheekiness with charm, coming through in his sarcastic quips to Scar and clever popular culture references.
As much as you can’t have Ant without Dec, you can’t have Timon without Pumbaa, and the unlikely meercat / warthog duo are mastered by Alan McHale and Carl Sanderson respectively. Managing complex puppets to create their animal frames, they demonstrate incredible timing and physicality, regardless of the face you watch.
Those familiar with the original Disney film will instantly recognise Scar’s three hyena followers, Shenzi, Banzai and Ed. In tattered boiler-suits with expressive masked faces, Candida Mosoma, Jorell Coffic-Karnall and Alex Bloomer bring huge personalities through to these creatures. The cackle of hyenas come together in the ominous Be Prepared, Scar’s dark manifesto, and the image of dozens of the scavengers littering the shadowed stage will give anyone goosebumps.
The large ensemble ensure that every song is layered and filled with soul, surrounding the audience with the sights and sounds of the Pride Lands. With a cast and crew of more than 150, this is every inch a collective spirit creating a spellbinding production, drawing together passion and perfection to create something mesmerising.
The success of The Lion King is both well-known and extremely well deserved. This production – whether on the West End or in beautiful regional venues – will continue to fill audiences of all ages with wonder and a sense of pride to witness such storytelling mastery.
Get tour details from the official site HERE.