REVIEW: The Lion King, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, until Saturday, September 6.

Did we really see stampeding wildebeest charging towards us?

You bet we did, on another stupendous night at the Mayflower Theatre, the venue which asks itself what we want and then delivers it to our doorstep.

The Lion King is the kind of show that makes you wish you’d never ever used the word spectacular before. This is the show it was intended for, a wonderful explosion of colour and fun, all backed up by fantastic songs, a decent story and the most gorgeous array of costumes.

As the show opens, the animals of Africa assemble against the rising sun in surely theatre’s most gorgeous opening ever – and things don’t drop from there as we get sucked into the Hamlet-esque tale of a rightful heir dispossessed by a wicked uncle. Except, of course, the family in question is a pride of lions.

Stephen Carlile makes a terrific Jungle Book-ish villain as Scar, the usurper who does the dirty on his brother and nephew, aided and abetted by a comic cackle of hyenas.

Poor little Simba is robbed of his destiny... until Timon and Pumbaa, a wise-cracking meerkat and a flatulent warthog (John Hasler and Mark Peachey), pick him up and put him back on his path to glory again.

Timon and Pumbaa give the show the comedy it needs after a first half full of menace, and you know that comeuppance is always just around the corner – a simple story but one delivered with endless imagination. Apparently there are 54 performers on stage and another 100 backstage making it all work, a stat which underlines the sheer scale of it all, a monumental theatrical achievement which goes way beyond the monumental expectations which precede it.

The perfect show? Quite probably – and certainly a huge feather in Southampton’s cap that we’ve got it all summer long.

Phil Hewitt