LAND OF THE LIONS

Step off the tube and into the Gujarat state of India at London Zoo’s latest attraction, Land of the Lions.

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One male and three females have taken residency at the newest enclosure. Their new crib has room to roam and roar; but some privacy can be found in hidden caved outlets. (A lion likes a bit of Netflix time too you know. And yes Mufasa and Simba are up there in their list of favourites).

Having not ticked India off my travel bucket list yet, I can’t give marks to actual accuracy. But the South Asian majestic and authentic balance the designers have painted throughout the Lion’s new digs, certainly have a way of taking you out of Regent’s Park. Replica street markets, a food hut, carts, tuk tuks and shops complete the Indian wonderland – where attention to detail has been absolutely nailed. It’s as much fun exploring the intricate side of ZSL’s take on Gujarat as it is seeing the beautiful big cats explore their new habitat.

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We were lucky enough to swing by the pride at feeding time. The ladies did Beyoncé proud by being all independent in owning and chomping up the animal carcasses that were on the menu. It was just a shame that the arm of the keeper didn’t have the same power when it came to throwing the flesh beyond the Indian moat surrounding their territory.

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The main lad Bhanu was dominating his man den during our visit, so we didn’t actually get up close and personal with him. But when walking along one of the bridge walkways in the Gujarat compound, we were hit with terror and amazement when what we thought were really cool sound effects, happened to be Bhanu just voicing his thoughts on Donald Trump. His deep tones echoed through the entire Indian state and sent excitable chills and panic right through you. In a few month’s time, the Gir Lion Lodge Cabins open their doors to the public for sleepovers, so I’d imagine those roars will make for excellent alarm clocks.

With glass panels on several look-out points, Land of the Lions is probably as real as it’s ever going to get when rubbing snouts with jungle royalty. And did it #crackmybitchface? It certainly did. Having a face off with four of nature’s most stunning creations means that it’s pretty hard not to be blown away. Namaste Heidi, Indi, Rubi and Bhanu. It’s a pleasure to have you.

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ALADDIN: THE MUSICAL

To this day, a magic lamp complete with Genie has always been top of my Christmas list. And though my wishes change on a daily basis depending on my level of hunger, one thing that doesn’t is my love Disney’s classic Arabian fairy tale.

When I heard that Prince Ali was heading to town, I knew that I had to see him. So it wasn’t a matter of if I’d go… It was when. And I can confirm that I wasn’t disappointed.

DISCLAIMER ALERT: I promise I’ll do my best to not give away too many spoilers.

First thing’s first – the real heroes that should take a bow are the production team. Attention to detail? On another level. Props, special effects and lighting? Nailed. Set design? Out of this world. Words alone can only go so far when attempting to describe this work of theatrical genius – with a special nod to when you’re taken inside the cave with Al himself. I mean lets just say there’s enough gold to give Kanye a second shot at the Forbes rich list. The whole set glistened from start to finish – it’s the kind of stuff Magpie dreams are made of.

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The first time I saw Genie appear, I honestly had to shake my head and look hard to work out how they made his emergence from the lamp so realistic! He really did steal the show. His take on the character that Robin Williams made so lovable in the first place raised the Prince Edward ceilings – and also took elements that teetered on the edge of pantomime into full-on West End spectacular. His singing, aura and stage presence meant that the interval was spent researching where this wish-granting legend had come from.

Love’s young dream was brought to life by Aladdin and Jasmine – who certainly demonstrated they could hold a note or two, but didn’t quite bring as much as Trevor Dion Nicholas did as Genie. I’d like to say that the chemistry between them was enough to light Ababwa (if it were a real place) but sadly it felt a little forced. All of your favourite songs were there – alongside a couple that felt they were just there to fill an outfit change or pad out the sequence – I mean, Proud Of Your Boy? Very odd.

Yes, a couple of adaptations had been made and there was no pet monkey – apparently Marcel from friends had prior engagements. Iago’s  parrot to human transformation was quite a success too – after all, what would Jafar be without a sidekick?

One last special mention has to go to the true magic of the entire show, so lads: take note. If in life, you ever find a way of getting your hands on a magic carpet, TAKE IT. Say yes. Don’t look back. And you’ll be romantically sorted for the rest of time. I think I speak on behalf of all ovaries in the theatre when I say if I were Jasmine, I’d be putty too. The lighting, the song, the moment – it’s the stuff cupid thrives on.

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But the real question on Arabia’s lips: Did it #crackmybitchface?

A million percent yes. It’s Aladdin: In front of your eyes for crying out loud! London has to be one of the luckiest cities in the world right now with this playing in the West End, so whilst it has residency here – book it. Because it’s the closest you’ll ever get to meeting a blue giant. You will not regret it.