Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba Sithi uhm ingonyama…
Only a die hard Lion King fan would recognise these opening lyrics to the Circle of Life, everybody else just thought I momentarily lost the plot and started writing reviews in Zulu. Roughly translated from the widely spoken African language, this line means “Here comes a lion, father, Oh yes it’s a lion.”
And it’s true, the lion has landed in Bristol for the opening of its second tour of the UK and Ireland. This tour will see Disney’s The Lion King visit nine cities between 2019 and 2022. It may be 22 years since the first night of this show on Broadway but it remains as spine-tingling and smile-inducing as when it opened its doors to the Sergengeti for the first time.
I doubt there was a single person in the Bristol Hippodrome not smiling as the aisles were paraded with mammals and birds swirling above heads. This opening number is so iconic and nothing throughout the show manages to top this scene and it seems I was not alone in this thought with regular cheering mid-song.
The Lion King is one of the most visually impressive productions currently touring, the cast could honestly just stand there silently and you would still be in awe from the costumes, masks, puppets and set. The colours and textures are thoughtful and interesting.
Julie Taymor is not only director but also responsible for the costume design, co-design of the masks and puppets and additional lyrics. It is due to her that the masks, puppetry and costumes work together so beautifully to allow you to see the actors faces to connect with the characters further, yet still keep them as animals.
The most impressive are the giraffes as they gracefully graze across the stage on four stilts. The physicality from all animals is spot on, and paired with the dynamic choreography, means the movement in general is brilliant.
With Disney’s backing it seems like no challenge is too big for this production not to tackle and overcome. The team is inventive, imaginative and boundless with its creative solutions around the obvious problems with staging an animal-based show.
They’ve kept so much of the original film and musical for this production with a few small refreshing elements. There are some special lines for the Bristol audience with comments on the set: “That looks like a shower curtain from St Nick’s Market” and sassy localised insults “I should have sent you back to Somerset”.
Despite this the production team have kept true to their African roots throughout and have kept the culture as a big part of the production. Language, dance, music is all honoured and not overshadowed by the modern elements of the show.
The iconic music written by Elton John and Tim Rice floods from under the stage as well as drifting down from boxes either side of the auditorium, all carefully conducted by Jonathan Gill.
From the opening note to the final bow, this show is a ridiculously bonkers spectacle to behold. Visually like nothing else, bursting with energy and using genius storytelling techniques to tell the much loved tale.
The Lion King is at Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 23rd November.