Review: Lion King (Lyceum Theatre, London)

Opening in 1999, The Lion King has been at London’s Lyceum theatre since. The vision of Julie Taymor (the same one who recently steamrolled Spider-Man onto Broadway in the form of Turn off the Dark and then swiftly into a grave), it includes music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice and a book by Irene Mecchi and Roger Allers.

Based on the 1994 Disney classic of the same name, it’s no surprise that The Lion King has gone on to become such a hit with London audiences. A favourite of kids as well as adults who grew up watching the original film, there’s a clear nostalgic element to the show. 90% of the audience going in will undoubtedly already know the story and a fair few of the songs, and 90% of those coming out will more than likely leave satisfied.

As for me, I went in as one of the 90% and came out as one of the remaining 10%…

That’s not to say that this isn’t a good musical. It is, but for me the show has become a victim of its own hype.

Performances on the whole were OK, if a tad underwhelming. The adult cast all gave solid acting performances, although I was disappointed with the strength of some of the singing. The same can be said for the child actors, particularly the young Simba, who really struggled with some of the notes in ‘I Just Can’t Wait to be King’.

As with the film version, the music is one of the strongest elements of the musical, so it’s even more of a shame that the vocals of a handful of the cast members didn’t live up to the songs. There are even a few welcome additions to the billing – while a number of the African-sounding additions jar with the Disney popcorn hits, the return of ‘He Lives in You’ is one of the strongest moments of the evening. Removed from the film and added to the sequel, it sits perfectly within the musical’s narrative.

As this is one of my first posts, I’ll make the disclaimer now: I’ve always wanted to be a set designer. I’m not one and have no technical knowledge beyond what can be learnt on YouTube. However, it does make me overly critical here… 

For me, this was one of the biggest disappointments of the night. Don’t get me wrong, there is some fantastic staging throughout. But, at times, it is also very basic. So much so that my other half commented afterwards that he had forgotten how simplistic it all was.

There are two times when it all really comes together: the opening sequence, which sees pride rock literally rise out of the stage and revolve as hoards of animals march to the Circle of Life; and then during ‘They Live in You’. In the latter, an adult Simba looks down into the a small pool while the ghost of his father appears behind in the form of a giant lIon head that’s made up of pieces brought on by almost invisible dancers.

Outside of those two instances, very little really grabbed me. There was a clever use of the stage, with the rear section tilting to increase the rake (I’d love to take a look at all the mechanics going on underneath!), but very few scenic elements were used.

Special mention does have to go to the stampede though! It’s cleverly done, with rows of wildebeests taking over the stage – some actors in costume, others models rotating on a glorified spit – but I’d like to have seen it from the mid-stalls or dress circle where it’s clearly designed to be most effective.

Verdict: ★★☆☆☆

An average evening all-round really. Could have won me over with stronger performances from the leads, but it still had its magical moments. Perhaps one to see again from a better location.

And the seat…

Grand circle, row L, seat 43. I wouldn’t usually sit so far back in the Grand (upper) Circle, but was given the tickets for free by exchanging my Tesco points. Especially in a theatre this big (the Lyceum seats a relatively hefty 2100 people), being so far back and so high can mean you’ll find yourself moving from side to side in an effort to see through the endless rows between you and the stage.

I was surprised. The circle in the Lyceum seems to have a pretty decent rake on it, and the view from my seat was near perfect. (This may just be because I had three small children on the seats in front, but I can’t imagine there would be much obstruction with a six-feet-tall gentleman in the same seats.)

Leg room was one of the biggest surprises though. At a touch over six feet myself, my knees didn’t touch the seat in front a single time – a near impossible feat in a theatre of this age. Add to that the cool breeze circulating the whole theatre – potentially aircon, potentially just vents in the roof – and it was an all-round pleasant experience.

Lyceum theatre Upper Circle Seat L

Tickets are available for The Lion King from the Ambassador Theatre Group website here. 

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