I had been looking forward to seeing The Lion for a long time. I was aware of Benjamin Scheuer’s autobiographical musical, but I had never had the chance to see it. This brand new production originally had its press night scheduled for May 27th, but was postponed due to illness. Being made to wait even longer to see this show meant the pressure was on the team to really deliver. To say it was worth the wait would be an understatement.
I urge everyone to grab a ticket
Taking on the role of Ben is actor-musician and brand new talent Max Alexander-Taylor. It was a masterclass performance. A one-man musical can't be easy to accomplish, but Alexander-Taylor rises to the challenge – welcoming the audience as they arrive and cheerfully encouraging all to have a good time, before taking everyone on a journey into some dark times from the character’s past. From Ben’s troubles with his father, his constant love of music through to his fight against cancer we are all swept along on a roller-coaster of emotion that we never want to end. To make the show both heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time is a remarkable feat but it is thanks to Benjamin Scheuer’s incredible book – based on his real life experiences – and Alexander-Taylor’s performance that this is pulled off so well. The real Benjamin Scheuer was in attendance and gave Alexander-Taylor a standing ovation at the end – a testament to the power of his performance.
The set design by Simon Kenny is very minimal. Bare light bulbs, used in Emma Chapman’s clever lighting design, rise from the floor and hang from the ceiling. The stage itself consists of one platform, simply holding the five guitars that will be used by Alexander-Taylor throughout the story. Some of the guitars have a more direct role in the story than others – the folksy music underlying the show briefly transforms into rock and back again as Ben progresses through his tempestuous teenage years. A short while later he finds himself back on the trusty acoustic and writing funny love songs for his girlfriend. Not a single song feels out-of-place or unnecessary and a special mention should go out to Andrew Johnson’s sound design too, as the balance of instrument and vocal was perfect throughout. The audience sits on three sides. Directors Alex Stenhouse and Sean Daniels have done well to ensure that everyone feels they are having an intimate conversation with Ben as he tells his story. Looking around the auditorium there were so many tears streaming down faces during the sadder parts of the tale that it was clear how many of us felt the emotion of the piece.
The Lion is showing now in The Little at Southwark Playhouse for a very limited run prior to a mini UK tour. I urge everyone to grab a ticket. Max Alexander-Taylor will be a big name in the future and it would be a travesty to miss out on seeing him perform alone in this intimate venue.