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Ian Waller enjoys a Disney classic that brings so much joy and colour to the Bristol stage

You know it’s going to be a good evening at the theatre when you feel like giving the production on stage a standing ovation barely five minutes in! But then, that’s the effect The Lion King at the Bristol Hippodrome will have on you – a near perfect piece of family theatre combining wonderful storytelling with top level performances, jaw-dropping set pieces and music and songs of the highest calibre. Yes, we enjoyed it – a lot!

Now you probably already know the story from the hugely successful Disney films about a young lion who is forced to leave his pride and give up his position as the heir to the throne, only to grow up, learn a few lessons along the way and eventually seek to reclaim what is rightfully his. It’s a wonderful tale full of brave heroes and terrible villains, friendship and bravery, love and duty.

Richard Hurst as Scar and Matthew Forbes as Zazu in Disney’s The Lion King

What the stage version adds is bountiful amounts of colour, energy, incredible creativity and immense talent. From those opening few moments, you’re entranced as the animals of the African savannah are portrayed through actors in incredible costumes, puppets, shadow puppets and incredible mechanical creations. With the actors and musicians appearing from right around the grand old Bristol Hippodrome, it brings the whole venue to life with a remarkable and utterly entrancing energy.

This production boasts a sizable cast of actors, singers and dancers, with everyone from the leads to the ensemble all close to perfect in their performances. Richard Hurst is suitably malevolent at the evil Scar, cunning and desperate in his pursuit of his place on the throne; Jean-Luc Guizonne gallant and regal at the King Mufasa, even if occasionally his lack of enunciation made it difficult to fully appreciate what he was saying; and Matthew Forbes as the ever loyal courtier Zazu wonderfully stiff and perfectly comical.

Thandazile Soni as Rafiki – wow, what a voice!

The real joy, however, came with the stunning voice and eccentric character that Thandazlie Soni gives to Rafiki, the madrill and shaman of the pride. What an incredible, joyous and emotional vocal talent, from the very start bringing the gorgeous tones of African music to the Bristol stage. Alongside her, Stephen Ardern-Sodje as the older Simba and Nokwanda Khuzwayo as Nala are faultless, combining incredible lion-like movements with strong vocal performances and rare ability to dominate the stage.

Around the central performances, the stunning ensemble flooded the stage with a colour and vitality that fully deserved the rapturous attention of the packed audience. 

You have to give it to the Bristol Hippodrome – they know how to pick a good production and there are few better than The Lion King. I absolutely loved it!

The Lion King is running at the Bristol Hippodrome until 19 March. For more information and tickets, click here