Southwark Playhouse, London
Music, lyrics and book by Benjamin Scheuer
Directed by Alex Stenhouse and Sean Daniels
There are likely to be few more impressive performances than Max Alexander-Taylor’s turn as Ben in The Lion now playing in Southwark Playhouse’s Little space. In the 75 minute one-act piece, Alexander-Taylor, aided only by 5 guitars (4 acoustic, 1 electric) takes Benjamin Scheuer’s autobiographical look back at the first 30 years of his life, in a virtuoso combination of acting and musicianship.
Alexander-Taylor’s first class performance however is stifled within a structure that barely gets beyond the two-dimensional. The Lion is more scripted cabaret than theatre, with Scheuer treating the audience almost as his therapist, The show's narrative (comprising both lyrics and their linking monologues) is almost entirely expositional, with minimal dramatic substance to lift the tale. We learn that Scheuer had a troubled relationship with his father and subsequently his mother, a failed relationship and that at 30 he was blighted with a (thankfully cured) debilitating cancer. While this may be an undoubtedly sincere and humbling narrative, as presented it is neither gripping nor memorable drama. All too often modern musical-theatre writing can descend into little more than self-indulgent, introspective balladry. The Lion descends deeper than most.
Scheuer’s journey will resonate with many as dysfunctional families, depression and cancer are sadly all too common. But worthy causes alone do not a musical make. Outstanding work from Max Alexander-Taylor, but this lion fails to roar.
Runs until 25th June
Photo credit: Pamela Raith