This is a continuation of my thoughts on recently seeing The Lion King from my post on Thursday. So. Why were we confused?
Firstly, the performers. Touring is rough. I know that. It’s hard to go from city to city and theatre to theatre and not being at home and trying to maintain health and stay in top performing shape. And I don’t care. I don’t care, that’s the job everyone signed up for. It’s the job to be on tour. It’s the job to do the same thing night after night. It’s the job to care about the audience and do the show for the one person in the audience who may have never seen the show before. I was that person and for the most part I did not feel I was watching performers who cared.
The beauty and imagery of the world and the puppets are only as good as the puppeteer. And it’s one thing to engage my imagination into seeing antelope leaping across the Savannah and another to see a bored cast member move his arms cause that’s what’s he’s done every night for months. That does not create a world for me.
Now, I could watch the Scar mask move from the top of his head to in front of his face all night. That simple swoop with a theatrical pose and I was right there. Lion! The Zazu puppet was wonderful, and I totally bought into why the actor was dressed in blue (blue sky) as a contrast to the bird. But the rest? My imagination remained fully in the starting blocks.
Next, let’s look at the text. We were both, confused, by the text. A lot of trouble has been taken to create a world for the stage. Again, there’s a very specific thesis at work. The look of the costumes. The use of African music. The commitment to gesture. The simplicity of some of the imagery “” I thought the buzzards were highly effective as was showing the land in drought by a cloth disappearing into the floor.
Why is it then that the text went out of the way to yank me from the world they’ve taken such care to create? During I Just Can’t Wait to be King Zazu turns to the audience and cries out “They look like shower curtains from Target.” Wuah? Why was there a dance number that changed the colour palette of the costumes and looked straight out of Joseph? Why were the Hyaenas dancing on two feet and further why were there Hyaenas dancing like they were at a night club? Why was Timon wearing a tiara?
Granted, I know there were moments in the movie that did the same thing. But this is not the movie. I thought that was the point “” this is theatre, that is cinema. This is a theatrical experience with a specific thesis and a vision to make me believe I’m watching animals when I see puppets. To make me believe I’m in the Savannah when I see a bare stage.
Why then would the show do something to point out that none of the above was true? And let’s not even get into the fact that the first act was nearly 90 minutes long in which nothing was really added to the story telling. When I start watching the musicians and counting lights, there’s something up.
Craig thinks the show we saw was not close to the original. It’s a tour. It’s been photocopied too many times. We came too late to the party. I’m not convinced. My confusion was equally strewn between performance and text. And maybe a different production would have held me in the world with more ability. But I wonder if I ever would have fully enjoyed the party at all.