Review: The Lion, St James Studio

“He gave the gift of music to his boy”

Less of a theatre show and more of a confessional cabaret, the positive noises growing around Benjamin Scheuer’s The Lion were such that my perennial fear of missing out on something special kicked in and so I grabbed a late cheap deal to see him in the studio space of the St James Theatre in Victoria. And sure enough, it is a perfectly formed gem, a million miles from conventional musical theatre but packing as big a punch as any 11 o’clock number you’ve ever heard.

The Lion is an autobiographical tale of love and loss, family and music, maths exams and cancer, employing a suite of songs that he uses six guitars to play and which demonstrate a substantial gift for story-telling as well as song-writing, the narrative throughline that emerges is extraordinary. It’s also deceptively simple – the opening number of ‘Cookie Tin Banjo’ has a child-like glee but also contains the beginnings of a tumultuous relationship between father and son.

This folk style, almost country-like, is where Scheuer shines and in tracing the major events of his life – the death of his father, the trials of falling in and out of love, a battle with cancer – it is where the moments of intimate emotional truth really hit home. As with most boys, there’s a rebellious streak in him and with one of the guitars being electric, a rockier edge provides texture to the score, especially during the boarding school years.

Scheuer makes for a hugely appealing performer, balancing handsome swagger and a knowing cockiness with huge subtlety and palpable charm as we collectively push through the dark days to get through to a better, happier place and the realisation that he needs to appreciate what he has more. A simple truth but nonetheless a poignantly powerful one and as that childhood ditty reprises itself, new meaning suffuses the lyrics – “I am learning what it means to really roar”. Fantastic.

Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 7th September

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