Review: The Lion King, Bristol Hippodrome

7 09 2012

In the Bristol Hippodrome’s centenary year, to host the first ever UK touring production of The Lion King is an extraordinary coup. And they most certainly have pulled it off, with the grand old theatre more than a match for the lifesize giraffe and buffalo puppets, and the rigours of an ever-changing set from elephant graveyard to plentiful jungle.

This is a show that will have almost everyone raving after the final curtain. Any show that has many of its audience in tears even before a word is spoken deserves all the plaudits it gets. If you are able to, get an aisle seat and then sit back and soak up the atmosphere of the African savannah.

I have seen The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre in London twice, and the show’s transfer to Bristol has been seamless. A detractor would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the opening scene as the animals make their way through the audience to greet the young Simba as he is presented by his proud parents from Pride Rock.

If you don’t know the story of The Lion King by now, then watch the Disney animated film or read Hamlet. There is both laughter and tears, and despite it being called The Lion King, it is the women who steal the show, with the pride of lionesses one of the highlights of this sumptuous production.

Swindon’s Stephen Carlile makes a suitably menacing Scar, winning supremacy from Cleveland Cathnott’s Mufasa. As well as the costumes and original songs, the other stars last night were Clifton High pupil Auden Barnes playing young Simba and Donica Elliston as young Nala, their older counterparts Nicholas Nkuna and Carole Stannett.

Now seen by more than 65 million people worldwide, The Lion King musical is starting to show its age after 13 years on stage, with Bristol Old Vic’s artistic director Tom Morris taking the portrayal of animals on stage to a whole new level with War Horse, making The Lion King’s puppetry seem rather old-fashioned.

The added musical elements also add nothing to the production, with Elton John and Tim Rice’s music and lyrics seeming even better compared to the additions, one of which featuring dancing hyenas could have been set in GAY to Copacabana.

Other additional references to Glasgow and DIY SOS (made in Bristol) do work, however, and The Lion King is certain to be the hottest ticket in town for the next three months.

The Lion King is at Bristol Hippodrome until November 17. Click here for more information.


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