The Lion King

The Playhouse, Edinburgh

Neil Cooper

Five stars

It really is a jungle out there in this latest tour of Disney’s epic staging of the company’s now quarter-of-a-century old Hamlet-inspired animated feature. And Julie Taymor’s production puts flesh on the bones of Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi’s book about lion cub Simba’s coming of age in the face of betrayal, exile and death in a quite spectacular fashion. It sets out its store from the start with the world music chorale of Circle of Life, Elton John and Tim Rice’s opening number that incorporates Hans Zimmer and Lebo M’s Nants Igonyama. This heralds the ark-load of creatures who parade through the auditorium in a rousing display of communal co-existence.

This makes for the start of a vivid morality play, with Taymor and Michael Curry’s puppet creations navigating Garth Fagan’s choreography across the landscapes of Richard Hudson’s Max Ernst-inspired sets. These are framed by the dazzling washes emanating from the entire spectrum of Donald Holder’s lighting design. The first half is carried largely by Jean-Luc Guizonne as Simba’s father Mufasa, Richard Hurst as his scheming brother, Scar and Matthew Forbes as pukka hornbill, Zazu. Joshua Moabi and Mary-Anne Pity Tiekou more than hold their own as Young Simba and Young Nala, one of five teams of child actors playing the roles during the show’s almost four-month Edinburgh run.

The second half sees Dashaun Young take up the mantle of grown-up Simba with a muscular verve that finds romance with Josslynn Hlenti’s Nala. Almost 40 performers make up the life-size menagerie beyond, with the trio of malevolent hyenas hiding out in the elephants’ graveyard as a grotesque gang of power-hungry desperadoes. Despite such biblical largesse, things never feel overloaded or bombastic, and while brush-strokes are necessarily broad at for a family audience, there are nuances within that. A sense of nobility and community pulse the law of the jungle story with a sense of internationalist pride that goes brilliantly beyond the call of the wild elsewhere.