When Disney’s touring stage production of The Lion King visited Edinburgh in 2013, it was hailed a roaring success. In four months the show entertained more than 325,000 people, but when it left for new territory – in a fleet of 23 trucks – I was one of the many who had failed to secure tickets that were hotter than the African savannah. To see the show in the UK now means a trip to London’s Lyceum theatre where it’s in its 16th year. Around the world, 75 million people have seen the spectacular and it is Broadway’s highest-grossing production, so we decided the journey south for an overnight stay was hopefully worth making.
Based on the 1994 film, the story of the circle of life – a coming-of-age tale about a young lion called Simba. The musical has the perfect ingredients for an audience of all ages, not least the epic Circle of Life theme tune penned by Sir Tim Rice and Sir Elton John, which was nominated for an Academy Award for best song, along with Hakuna Matata and Can You Feel the Love Tonight?, which actually scooped the top prize in 1994.
The production is massive with a multi-talented cast of 45 actors, dancers, singers and puppeteers. I don’t want to give too much away and spoil the wow-factor, but suffice to say this show is not to be missed.
After a standing ovation, dominant male and I were lucky enough to tour backstage. A tiny area accommodates the numerous costumes and puppets, and storage needs to be as efficient as an Ikea merchandising display room.
The V&A museum’s theatre and performance rooms have costumes on display for anyone who can’t get behind the scenes yet would like a closer inspection. The costume design is by Tony-award winning Julie Taymor and her attention to detail is truly impressive, from the lioness costumes on which the thousands of beads are individually hand-sewn (to avoid any casualties on stage should a thread break), to the perspective achieved during a stampede using visual tricks.
When visiting London for an overnight trip to a West End show the location of your accommodation is as important a consideration as which show to see. There’s no question that staying centrally can be costly, but it’s always a worthwhile expense. The five-star One Aldwych hotel sits right next door to the Lyceum, which makes it an ideal place to fall into bed after all the excitement of the day. Independently owned with 105 rooms, a night here is a real treat. The room has everything we might need: bathrobes and slippers, wi-fi, mini-bar, but most importantly a big comfy bed. Our pre-theatre meal gives our tastebuds a MasterChef-style workout and is a decent price at £25 for three courses. I enjoy Cornish mackerel, celeriac, beetroot and apple blossom, then braised shoulder of Welsh lamb, cumin, couscous and cherry vine tomatoes followed by rice milk panna cotta, poached rhubarb with an oat crumble.
There’s plenty to see and do in the vicinity of the hotel and we make use of advice from a few impressive friends of One Aldwych who include actress Joanna Lumley OBE, Paralympian gold-medal winner Dame Sarah Storey and Caroline Rush CBE, chief executive of the British Fashion Council.
Somerset House is our first stop; the arts and cultural centre used for London Fashion Week is just across the road. There are exhibitions and restaurants, as well as 55 dancing fountains in the courtyard. We spent a while browsing and buying in the Rizzoli bookshop. Picture postcard photos of many of London’s landmarks can be taken from Waterloo Bridge, opposite the hotel and next to Somerset House, which has a magnificent view of the Thames in both directions.
Fresher water for a plunge can be found back at the hotel’s pool. It’s an 18-metre non-chlorinated pool which uses a mineral-based cleaning system.
That’s not the only unusual aspect: the tiles and grout are darker than usual, mood lighting and projections of underwater scenes evoke the feeling of wild swimming until you realise that there’s an underwater sound system playing gentle music. I have to admit that I felt slightly apprehensive when the sharks appeared. Jaws the Musical, coming to a hotel near you... scenes from the film with John Williams’s famous theme tune playing underwater would provide a truly terrifying experience, certainly more than a pack of furry lions – but I know which I’d prefer to take the family to see.
The Lion King is now booking until January 2016. Lyceum Theatre, 21 Wellington Street, London WC2E 7RQ, tickets from £35 for individuals and £29.50 for groups, visit www.thelionking.co.uk or call the Official Lion King Hotline, 0844 871 3000. One Aldwych, 1 Aldwych, London WC2B 4BZ, rooms from £320 per night plus VAT, tel: 020 7300 1000, www.onealdwych.com