Why The Lion King is still the Pride of London: A REVIEW
- Credit: Johan Persson
From the roaring success of Disney's The Lion King to the on-the-edge-of-your-seat suspense of Agatha Christie's Witness for the Prosecution, Sussex Life editor Karen Pasquali Jones discovers a stay in London's West End at two five-star hotels is a capital idea
Watching my teenage daughter tottering into a restaurant on her vertiginous heels, I began to worry. We were due to leave our hotel in an hour to head to a theatre to watch a show. And as we were in the heart of London’s Covent Garden I was beginning to think she would break her ankles navigating the cobbled streets in those shoes.
‘How far is it to The Lyceum Theatre?’ I asked the waitress in the five star hotel we were staying in, One Aldwych, in the centre of the West End ‘We have tickets for The Lion King and I don’t want to be late.’
She smiled as she handed us our starter. ‘Don’t worry,’ she reassured me. ‘It’s just there, look.’ I followed her gaze to a large window through which I could see people queuing for the stalls and royal circle entrance to the show. If I had put my hand out of the window I was sure I could have touched them.
There was no need to worry about how well my daughter could walk in five-inch stilettoes, nor rush our pre-theatre dinner in Indigo. The theatre was literally next door and we could leave just minutes to curtain up. So we savoured our delicious Jerusalem artichoke velouté, with a slow poached Clarence Court egg, and Chickpea panisse, followed by Karolyn’s Brulee dessert consisting of Blood orange sorbet with burnt orange caramel. Then, when the queue was just the right size, we exited the hotel’s side entrance just off the Strand, and slipped into the theatre.
It was two minutes from our dinner table to our royal circle seats, with just enough time to collect a glass of bubbly from the bar, and watch the Disney show begin. And what a show.
We’ve all seen the movie (both the original and the remake) and love the story of lion cub Simba trying to come to terms with his part in his father Mufasa's death and, as an adult, reclaim his homeland from his wicked uncle Scar, set to the music and lyrics of Elton John and Tim Rice.
But from the moment Rafiki (Thenjiwe Thendiva Nofemele), the mandrill monkey based on a songamo spiritual healer and shaman, held up the young Simba cub to the packed audience and began singing Circle of Life, we were all enthralled.
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The Lion King has lost none of the magic since it opened in London in October 1999. The stage adaptation has been on Broadway as well as the West End and travelled to 100 cities in 20 countries across six continents, collecting awards and praise along the way. From the puppeteers working the animals on the Pridelands – countless zebra, four 18ft-tall giraffes, majestic elephants, hyenas, and a 45lb warthog among the 52 species of animals – to the energetic choreography, colourful costumes, and fantastic acting, the play is a triumph.
Young Simba (the uber talented and impossibly cute Oliver Dunkley) steals the show in every scene he’s in except when he’s up against the dastardly Scar, played magnificently by George Asprey whose bony, skeletal costume perfectly matches Scar's misshapen, twisted personality.
The acting, singing and theatrical production were world-class and after almost two years of restrictions during the pandemic, it was incredible to be part of an audience immersed in a fantastic story. The two and a half hours flew by, and it was time to walk the five steps back to our hotel again.
We’d been promised drinks in the bar as an after-show treat. I had a mojito while my daughter had a milkshake and eased off her uncomfortable shoes before we headed up to our very luxurious accommodation.
We had a Deluxe room that came with a large bathroom, with a tub, waterfall shower and a walk-through study that my daughter instantly turned into her make-up area. The room came with access to The Library, a guest-only lounge and work space, and the health club with sauna and a pool.
After a fantastic night’s sleep we were up early for a hearty English breakfast (the creamy scrambled eggs were divine!) and a quick detour to Bond Street to check out Selfridges.
After buying up most of the Charlotte Tilbury counter (these daughters are so expensive!) it was time to head back to One Aldwych to grab our bags and go over the Thames to our next home away from home, the London Marriott County Hall.
Located on the South Bank, slap bang opposite Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, next to the London Eye, and just steps away from Westminster Bridge, this five star hotel is in a prime location and was the former City Hall.
‘It’s huge,’ my daughter said as we took in the long corridors with wood panelling and cocktail bar with panoramic views over central London. The Library restaurant still has thousands of books from the City Hall, but our ginormous room was a surprise: contemporary chic at its finest.
Along with two double beds, and an enviable view over the river – we were so close to the Eye we could smile at the tourists in their pods and tell the time from Big Ben – the wallpaper was a London map, and the luxurious bathroom was kitted out with Molton Brown products.
The heels were brought out again that evening for dinner at Gillray's Steakhouse & Bar downstairs where my daughter feasted on steak and I tucked into halloumi cheese chips with salad, washed down with Cosmopolitans, and a Sundae dessert.
After a delicious breakfast the next morning, we went off sight-seeing – a whistle-stop tour taking in Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square - before making our way back to London County Hall, next door to our hotel to watch Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution.
Director Lucy Bailey places the audience in the middle of action in a realistic courtroom set inside the iconic hall. From here you're instantly drawn into Christie’s thrilling tale of justice, passion and betrayal as Leonard Vole is tried for murder. With stellar turns from the cast, especially Emer McDaid as Romaine Vole, and plot twists galore, the award-winning play kept us on the edge of our seats.
‘That was brilliant,’ my daughter said at the end. ‘But I don’t think I want to wear these shoes ever again.’ We’d seen two plays and stayed at two different hotels in two days but it had been an incredible mini-break a deux. Now we’re hooked on the West End and five-star luxury, so all we can both say is: Encore.
Stays at One Aldwych start from £480 per night in a Classic Room. onealdwych.com
Luxurious overnight accommodation with cocktails* in the Lobby Bar and breakfast included. *One cocktail per person.
Promo code to use when booking - sussexlife
Witness for the Prosecution is at London County Hall witnesscountyhall.com
A night at London Marriott County Hall starts at £325 room only.www.marriottcountyhall.com