How refreshing to see a piece of theatre that isn't afraid to wear its values on its sleeves. At first glance The Lion King might appear to be just clumsy-mimsy right-on pro-immigration handclapping. In fact it's far cleverer than that: it's a hymn sung to the glories of patriarchy, authority and the political right. Lovely. I'm surprised Quentin Letts ever goes to see anything else.
Take the King. Mufasa brilliantly represents everything that has been lost by limp-wristed contemporary masculinity, dominating his hyena underclass with a no-nonsense iron fist, and making fun by dangling his staff's jobs in front of them. They certainly know who's boss. Even though he is a lion, Mufasa is so manly he walks on two legs with a gait that suggests balls the size of coconuts. We could do with someone like him to take the mewling Tory party by the scruff of their necks and parade them before a fawning stupefied people. They don't know they're born.
His brother Scar, by contrast, is the embodiment of evil, murdering his brother, stealing his throne, and heralding a deeply sinister "new era of lion-hyena co-operation". (How brave of Mr Disney to use an all-ethnic cast to demonstrate the dangers of inter-racial mixing!) We know Scar is evil right from the off, because even though he lives in the savannah, it is always dark when he is on stage. And his taking the throne from a rightful King - that step towards Communism! - is clearly and unambiguously shown as against nature: the very crops are blighted, wither and die. And then already awful Scar gets worse: he could have any lioness, but only lazily contemplates marriage when the question of an heir comes up. I bet Mufasa had no such namby qualms, rutting anything without a mane. That's what I call a real man. But what do you expect from arrivistes like Scar? Power corrupts, unless you're supposed to have it, like big-balls Mufasa, or emotional simpleton Simba.
The production is really about Simba, a power-crazed junior sociopath who "just can't wait to be king". Sporting Jimmy Porter-esque levels of self-absorption, our anti-hero has everything it takes to succeed in a lion-eat-lion world. And delightfully, this anti-hero has none of Porter's fashionable lefty whiny. His mantra means "no worries" and boy does he live by it. Even when confronted with the sudden, brutal death of his father, some rudimentary fart gags are enough to ensure he doesn't spend the whole show moping. I'm not quite sure why his accent changes so radically upon his accession to adulthood, but thank heaven it doesn't transform into that of the warthog and the other one who taught him his mantra Hakuna Matata. It's fine for such people to teach in schools, so long as they keep their opinions to themselves and don't shove them down the throats of innocent children.
Much has been written about The Lion King's narrative debt to Hamlet, but more interestingly, the production is proof positive that experimental theatre techniques aren't limited to service of the Left. I particularly liked the participatory elements, with the Revenue Control Officer hurtling up and down the Grand Circle's vertiginous steps flashing her torch at any audience member with the temerity to take film poor-quality footage of something available on CD and DVD for not much more than the cost of an extra ticket. There were also powerful elements of durational performance, particularly in the scenes with the parrot.
The moral of the whole thing is summed up in the excellent songs by Sir Elton of John and Lord Timothy Rice-Webber. It's all about "the circle of life". To end up other than where you started is against the natural order of things: "I am not who I was", protests Simba, resisting his natural destiny as King. "Remember who you are", replies his father, and just like that, he does. The only good change is a reactionary change.
At the end, there's an interesting moment when two of the play's value systems collide. Scar has to die, because the death penalty is just, and the only appropriate punishment for communists. But Simba cannot kill him, because then he will be a murderer and deserve death at the hands of the universe. To be honest, I think Simba should just have killed Scar. We'd all have been on his side, foaming as we were for the blood of the usurper. But the play cleverly side-steps the issue by having Scar fall off a convenient cliff. I didn't know they had any in the savannah, but they must have. How else is a monarch to survey his Kingdom?
Yes, The Lion King might look like it's just fucking atrocious, but it's actually far more serious than that.
Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will