JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE LION KING at the Edinburgh Playhouse, for The Scotsman 23.10.13.
3 stars ***
FIRST, let’s get one thing clear: no word written by any theatre critic will ever make the slightest dent on the great commercial juggernaut that is the stage version of The Lion King. Just as rock stars now use stadium shows to cash in on their catalogue of recorded sound, so Disney uses shows like the Lion King – now at the Playhouse for a three-month Christmas season – to cash in on the quality of their film output; the only question is how well the material survives the transfer to a different medium, and how much artistry has been brought to the job.
And the truth about The Lion King is that the show is a dstinctly mixed bag, combining flashes of supreme inspiration with elements which are unsubtle at best. The negatives includea a truly atrocious script, which makes about as leaden a job as possible of his classic rite-of-passage story about the lion cub Simba’s journey to manhood, inspired by the example of his kingly father, and threatened by the evil machinations of his malcontented uncle. And most of the music is completely forgettable, despite some nicely-textured marimba sounds here and there in the orchestration.
The show’s huge achievement, though, lies in the glorious, subtle and beautiful series of animal puppets created by designer Julie Taymor, with Michael Curry – puppets which absorb the human body into a whole Serengeti of stylised animal shapes, which somehow capture the essence of lion and hyena, leopard and giraffe, while also nodding subtly to the human faces of Africa. Moving across a stage drenched in the brilliant savanna colours of Richard Hudson’s set, these wonderful figures win well-deserved roars of applause from the audience; and the show’s 40-strong cast work with faultless commitment and energy, to deliver an experience audiences can rate as a memorable night out, worth all of the £50-plus that it costs.