The Lion King
The Lion King’s unfaltering residency at London’s Lyceum Theatre since 1999 is evidence of the show’s popularity. It is a pricey treat but the impressive costumes, eye-catching make-up and bold performances mean that it is a treat that it is well worth it. The clever techniques used to replicate some of the best-loved parts of the film and delivery of the infamous songs puts the audience under a spell of wonder. To complete the experience, powerful African rhythm and melodies that elevate the ‘pop-ish’ songs from the film are boldly delivered to the crowd.
On a chilly winter’s evening, who wouldn’t want to be transported to a sun-kissed Greek island? The humour and upbeat ABBA songs mean that it is impossible not to be swept up in the fun. Whilst the acting might not be the best you can find in the West End, this production is one of the most laid-back theatre experiences you’ll find in London. Entertaining the crowds since 1999, the slightly aging but dreamy set gives you a very clear idea of where you’d like to holiday next.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Surprisingly, this production takes a lot of its cues from the 2005 film directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp, and less so from the 1971 classic. The children who don’t quite make it to the end of the globally sought-after chocolate factory tour are as entertaining as expected and the Oompa Loompas have all sorts of charming and fun tricks to make the audience chuckle. Whilst the factory interiors struggle in places to keep up with the impressive imagination of Burton’s version, the amount of set changes and adaptations for stage are impressive. It was also refreshing to see Violet Beauregarde, the bubble-gum-chewing young girl, replaced by a black actress with an entourage that echoes today’s fascination with celebrity culture. Director Sam Mendes successfully adds a contemporary touch to universal themes and issues that are raised in the Roald Dahl story.
Continuing with the Roald Dahl theme, who doesn’t like a bit of magic to warm your heart? With the film being an absolute favourite, there was a lot to live up to when they announced the theatre version. Dahl’s characters certainly come to life; Miss Trunchbull sends shivers down your back and makes everyone around her feel helpless and frustrated — and while Matilda wows with her delivery of the script and songs, at times she lacks the delightful charm that Mara Wilson had in the 1996 film. This show makes a great day out for those with kids; it offers plenty of inspiration with its focus on learning and imagination.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
You may be more familiar with the 1988 film version of this, starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine. Everybody loves a good hustle and you’ll get plenty of mischief if you manage to catch this show on the road. Set in the glam French Riviera; expect beautiful outfits and plenty of glamour. The fun songs and dance routines restore faith in talented individuals who have been eaten up and spat out by the reality TV machine, Noel Sullivan proves to be a delight on stage.
The Sound of Music
This film classic works beautifully for theatre. The heart-warming story is based on the lives of the Von Trapp Family and was made world famous after the release of the 1965 musical starring Julie Andrews. On stage, the talented young individuals leave an impression and inspire others. A great all-rounder for the family, it’s both entertaining and educational. Over 50 years later, the story still inspires visits to the Austrian hills in Salzburg.
The sheer scale of this production and size of the stage immediately grabs you when you enter London’s Apollo Victoria Theatre. The exaggerated costumes, huge ballads and full impact sets will hold you in awe. At times there is so much to look at, you don’t know where to cast your eye. What stands out about this production is the clever layer of complexity that is added to the very well-known 1939 American musical fantasy film, Wizard of Oz — a film that can also boast being the first film to appear in colour, well, halfway through. This show makes you think twice about certain characters and is unique in the way it acts as a ‘top-up’ to the film.
After 11 years and over 4,600 performances, Billy Elliot is off on tour in April 2016, ending his stint at the Victoria Palace Theatre. The talented young actors wow the audience with their moves and energy. The audience is left tapping their toes wishing they could leap across the stage with grace. This is a must-see production — some might say it’s better than the film.
The 39 Steps
Look out for productions written by the incredibly talented Patrick Barlow. His recent shows include The 39 Steps, based on the 1915 novel by John Buchan and 1935 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Usually in-housed in the smaller theatres with good old-fashioned charm, these productions offer plenty of sharp wit, moments for laughing out loud and for utter astonishment at Barlow’s ingenuity. The handful of talented actors in The 39 Steps at the Criterion Theatre comically switch into different characters at pace, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats with laughter and awe of what might follow.
Bend it like Beckham
Also off on tour soon, this production offers an explosion of colour, energy and humour. The show serves up the vibrancy one would expect from a story that addresses cultural differences and the script carefully addresses political, religious and social issues. Portraying football is put a little lower down on the list of priorities and it would have been nice to see more innovative ways to capture sports on stage, as this is what makes this show stand apart from the others.