Bristol Hippodrome

The Lion King September 2012


When the animals came out of Africa and into the Bristol Hippodrome this week it was a show stopping moment.

From a children's story book to live theatre The Lion King roared its arrival with pride.

The Bristol Hippodrome is its first booking on a UK touring and hosted the premiere with some memorable performances.

The young lion king Simba is played by Auden Barnes, his father Mufusa by Nicholas Nkuma and the evil uncle Scarface by a slightly camp Stephen Carlisle.Rafiki is a monkey/narrator played by splendidly by Gugwana Diamini.

The character reminds you of Bloody Mary from South Pacific – all knowing and all telling as she shuffles along.

This production has a weird and wonderful menagerie including giraffes bigger than houses and everything seemed just so when there was an elephant or two in the room.

As with many other North Somerset people I took my place on the red carpet on Thursday night at the premiere in the newly-refurbished theatre.

The stalls had been moved around to accommodate two aisles which ended with steps up onto the stage and the orchestra– or lots of drums – were housed in two boxes to the left and right of the auditorium.

The Lion King is a musical based on the 1994 Disney animated film of the same name with music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice along with the musical score created by Hans Zimmer with choral arrangements by Lebo M. Directed by Julie Taymor it features actors in animal costumes as well as giant, hollow puppets.

Filling the stage were wild and menacing hyenas, fluttering kites and flying birds of paradise.

Sharp teeth and long pink tongues, bare-chested dancers leaping as high as gazelles, small children playing baby jumbos - there is so much for the eye to see.

But it was the costumes which steal the show with its huge animal mask headwear, African patterned clothes, colourful corsetry and Chinese influences.

The metal bicycle that pedals silhouettes of jumping antelopes, the black and white shadow sequences, the Disney comic moments between Simba and his sidekicks - it is overwhelmingly awe-inspiring.

The cast speak and sing in lilts which reflected their Jamaican, South African, US and British roots.

A mix of music, from hip hop to pop, accompanies the traditional sounds, from the Nile Valley to the Horn of Africa, which echo around the theatre and bounce off the walls.

The story is a coming of age journey for a young lion called Simba and his friends Timon (John Hasler) the meerkat, and Pumbaa (Mark Roper) the warthog across the Serengeti. 

Backwell School A-level drama student Hannah Middleton, aged 17, was among the first night audience.

She said: "It is a brilliant show.“I like the really great use of costumes and puppets.

“The way Mufusa’s ghost was put into the sky was genius and moving.

“Watch out for the two young lions – I predict a fantastic future for them.”

Nailsea School pupil Solomon Wanjau, aged 13, agreed.

He said: “I saw the Michael Jackson Tribute at the Bristol Hippodrome and although that was good this was 10 times better.”

Nailsea School sixth former Megan Parker went to the show with her grandfather Gerry Parker, a renowned drama critic and tote tipster.

We asked Megan, 17, for her thoughts.

She said: “I thought the singing was absolutely wonderful.“I also thought the first song Circle of Life was performed spectacularly,

“I have never seen such a great opening.”

So my advice is this -put this musical on your bucket list and go and see it soon.There is a free exhibition about The Lion King exhibition which runs until Sunday, September 16, at The Royal West of England Academy.

t is open from Monday to Saturday 9.30am-5.30pm and on Sunday from 11am-5pm.

Called Exploring The Lion King this unique exhibition reveals the inspiration and evolution behind Disney’s groundbreaking production and incorporates many of the now iconic costumes, masks and puppets in an interactive exhibition.

It gives visitors the opportunity to discover how acclaimed director and designer Julie Taymor, along with the rest of the show’s creative team, conceived and created the award-winning musical.

Carol Deacon