Review – 4****The Lion: Southwark Playhouse

A Man with five guitars and a microphone weaves a touching story of overriding optimism with a mixture of songs and dialogue.

It’s a brave person who stands up in front of a live audience and delivers a performance that is convincing, engaging and above all entertaining. Imagine the degree of difficulty when that person takes the stage alone and attempts to hold the audience with only a guitar to break the dialogue. Well that’s exactly what Max Alexander-Taylor does in this revival of Benjamin Scheuer’s award winning autobiographical show The Lion. We are taken on a journey through one man’s young life; the highs, lows and inbetweens; a fractious relationship with family and stuttering romance with his girlfriend are captured in the space of 70 minutes.

Pamela Raith

The smaller performance area of the Southwark Playhouse was beautifully lit by strategically placed light bulbs. It felt more like the setting for an MTV Unplugged session. With guitar in hand Max mingled with the crowd as patrons took their seats. A small raised platform represented the stage. Four additional guitars sat at the back; three acoustic guitars and a shiny electric guitar. I couldn’t help thinking when he might plug in the amp and start rocking out; but for the time being it was a natural approach as the story began.

Playing the show’s author Max quickly assimilated as ‘Ben’ leading us through his early life. His father was academically outstanding gaining degrees in mathematics and law. However, Ben struggled and longed for his father to teach him the guitar. The eldest of three brothers he soon had to contend with siblings who had the same passion for music. Like all families they are dysfunctional but are always there for each other. The inevitable bumps in the road are negotiated as the family flits between England and the States. His unpredictable relationships are explored as Ben reaches his 30s with mental and physical scars. But as Weather The Storm (one of many fine songs) puts it ‘Every heart is made stronger by scars’

The Lion is a hugely affecting account of somebody growing up and coping with the worst life can throw at him. Max Alexander-Taylor is an excellent all-round performer. His proficiency on guitar is nothing short of remarkable as he went electric with licks that gave his time at boarding school extra kick. There was a smooth transition between monologue and song driven narrative that ticked over nicely. Max’s likeability as a performer went through the roof towards the end of the show. Half way into a song a gentleman fainted in the front row; he quickly abandoned the song and rushed to his aid. Most performers would have done the same thing but the look of concern was genuine and heart felt. He later returned and completed the set to rapturous applause. Add all-round good guy to all-round performer.

Book, Music & Lyrics: Benjamin Scheuer

Directors: Alex Stenhouse and Sean Daniels

Producers: Danielle Tarento in association with Arizona Theatre Company

Published by Playhouse Pickings

Theatre blog run by Rhiannon; a civil servant, D&D player, sci fi fan, immersive theatre lover and gin enthusiast

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