From Thursday 6 November 2014 to 11 January 2015, The Lion King will play at Wales Millennium Centre. This Cardiff season will mark the first time the legendary musical has played in Wales and will be the only Welsh dates in the show's record-breaking tour of the UK and Ireland. The Lion King will play a ten week season in Cardiff, giving audiences the opportunity to experience the global phenomenon in their local theatre.
Four years in the making, this truly international production brings together a cast of over 50 actors, singers and dancers, from 18 different countries, supported by a backstage team of over 100 people. The touring production is the biggest musical production ever to tour the UK. With hundreds of masks, puppets and more than 700 elaborate costumes representing 26 different types of animal, 23 giant trucks are used to transport everything across the country. In total, the touring production will visit 11 cities across the UK & Ireland over two and a half years, with further dates and locations to be announced.
Masterminding the puppets is Will Pearce who has worked on the production since it played The West End. “We maintain all the puppets,” he tells me, “I’m painting the cheetah at the moment. We paint stuff and do running repairs, if anything breaks we’re backstage we have to kind of mend stuff and stick stuff back together and get them back on stage.”
Synchronization is key to the productions success as Will tells me. “The show is really busy there’s one hundred and fifty technical crew. Its all very well rehearsed and everyone knows exactly where they are going, backstage as well as on stage everyone knows where they are at the right time, it’s a smooth well oiled machine.”
Because the puppets feature so prominently in The Lion King, Will and his team are constantly at work to ensure everything runs on course. “Our job split between two things,” he continues, “We are on the shows in the evening with a talk-back radio system, if a leg falls off or something we've got to run on and patch it up and get it back on stage. During the days we have to keep the shows clean and looking as good as possible, one of us is painting Simba, another Gazelle’s and I've just painted a cheetah so it’s a constant maintenance programme to keep the show looking sharp.”
Will and his team get a great sense of pride as the puppets step on to the stage for the Circle Of Life opening sequence which brings many elements of the show together. “We look after about 160 different elements in the show and they've all got there different trademarks. You get used to certain things breaking. Sometimes some things come up that you haven’t seen before so that’s a bit of a challenge.”
Cardiff will be the eleventh city The Lion King has visited since opening its UK tour in Bristol in 2012. It will do a short run in Manchester in early 2015 before moving to Switzerland.
“It’s a real lifestyle,” says Will of his work, “I like to stay in the puppet world – its good fun!”
- Disney’s The Lion King will play at Wales Millennium Centre from Thursday 6 November 2014 to Sunday 11 January 2015. Tickets are available via 029 2063 6464 or wmc.org.uk and from 8am in person at the Centre.
- A version of this interview by Andy Howells was published in The South Wales Argus entertainment section The Guide on October 31, 2014