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The Lion King - London Review

Reviewed by Amelia Bascombe
Disclaimer: ticket was gifted on behalf of London Box Office in return for an honest review.


When The Lion King opened twenty-four years ago, is it possible that they predicted it to be such a smash hit? Coming in at 8th place for London’s longest running shows, this Disney production has been selling out the Lyceum Theatre now since before I was born. But after more than two decades on the West End, is The Lion King still at the top of the food chain?

Previous London cast. Photo by Dewynters Photography

With an opening sequence as visually stunning as ‘Circle of Life’, you’d be hard-pressed to find such a glorious start to a show elsewhere. Thenjiwe Thendiva Nofemele as Rafiki is giving us unmatched vocals and atmosphere that really place the audience as part of Pride Rock. As all the animals start coming on to the stage, both through the wings and the audience, we are transported to a bright, colourful environment that is coupled with gorgeous talent from the ensemble. It’s no wonder ‘Circle of Life’ came in at number 11 on the Billboards Top 100 songs from the Disneyverse – this scene is spectacular. The rotating stairs form a simplistic set that has a great impact – this scene is probably the truest to the film and you really feel like you’re right there with the cast.

Perhaps this is where the show has its downfalls, however. Coming of such a high intensity and well-known piece of music, the production takes a while to get itself back on its feet. The familiar songs like ‘I Just Can’t Wait to be King’, ‘Hakuna Matata’ and ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’ are staged wonderfully but make the transitions and acting-heavy scenes feel slow. There is a shift in excitement while we wait for the next known song and this rise and fall is prevalent throughout the whole show. After all, it’s a family show at its core and therefore doesn’t entirely hold up in comparison to some of the new musicals we’ve had in the last few years. 

The Lion King has been around for so long and will continue to sell well due to its attachment to Disney and the love and familiarity of the film. Unfortunately it relies heavily on the fact that everyone knows what to expect and doesn’t quite reach the potential that it could. There are so many new and exciting techniques in theatre that have been introduced within the last twenty-four years that would elevate this production, but why fix what isn’t broken? The show is obviously a success otherwise it wouldn’t still be running.

On the contrary, standout performances come from ZaZu (Gary Jordan), Pumba (Mark Roper) and Timon (Jamie McGregor). All of them have brilliant comedic timing and play off the other characters superbly. At this performance, the young characters were played by Amber Koduah-Hutchison and Theo Querico who were fabulous. You could tell they were having real fun on the stage, and they worked great together. Older Simba and Nala were played by Owen Chaponda and Merryl Ansah respectfully, and their vocals were triumphant. The insight into their characters was hazy at times and their motivations weren’t always clear, but they bounced off of each other quite nicely. George Asprey as Scar was dry and villainous, opposite a calm, and intimidating Shaun Escoffery as Mufasa – these two had great chemistry stage. And finally, the three hyenas played by Rhiane Drummond, Jorell Coiffic-Kamall and Mark Tatham, had some fantastic moments together and were very reminiscent of the film version.

Elton John and Tim Rice's pop sound is mixed with Lebo M's African-inspired additions which translates the atmosphere of the film well. Amongst the incredible theatrics are Japanese Kabuki costumes, African masks, and Malaysian shadow puppetry all infused together to create a marvellous tone from the very first song. Garth Fagan’s choreography is executed magnificently by the ensemble cast and it’s backed up by breathtaking lighting by Donald Holder, but the depiction of Africa does feel dated. The cast is wonderfully diverse, and probably the most of any show currently on the West End, however the portrayal of the African Pride Lands feels rather stereotypical.

The Lion King remains a show that should be crossed off any theatre-lover’s list and is a great way to introduce children to the world of musical theatre. We may hopefully be edging closer to a different/new show being housed at the Lyceum, but for now, The Lion King is a fun night out and a hit for all ages.

The Lion King continues at London’s Lyceum Theatre with tickets available through London Box Office by visiting their website

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