We had the absolute privilege of sitting down with Shaun Escoffery and George Asprey. They're both currently celebrating their 15th anniversary in the unstoppable West End production of The Lion King. This makes the duo the longest serving performers in the roles, in any production of the iconic show. But how did they go about celebrating this monumentous occassion? We found out.

Get yourself comfy for the next instalment of Stagey Chat!

Would you mind introducing yourselves and telling us how you both first got into acting?

Shaun Escoffery: My name is Shaun and I play Mufasa. I first got into performing back in junior school when I joined the school choir. That’s when I caught the bug and teachers encouraged me to go into the arts. I indirectly pursued it as a dream, I did it on the side because my family were very academic and were encouraging me to get into architecture which I was studying at Barking College. They had a fantastic performing arts department and that’s where I met people like Idris Elba. I was always singing and they’d ask me why I was doing architecture instead of performing arts. So, I finished the architecture course and went straight into performing arts and here I am!
George Asprey: I’m George and I play Scar. My mum and dad used to do amateur dramatics for the Hammersmith Operatic Society and in one production of Carmen, I was drummed in to play one of the little street urchins with my cousin. There were a lot of other school boys in the play and they were really mean - I remember it was my birthday and they gave me the bumps quite aggressively - so I think that actually put me off being an actor once again!

You're both fast approaching your 15th anniversary in The Lion King; making you both the longest serving performers in the roles in any production of The Lion King! What is it about The Lion King that has kept you in the production for so long?

Shaun: First of all, I love the show, love the music and the character of Mufasa. I also love the cast members and the company - I have made some of my best friends here. I just love everything about the show and my heart is firmly here and will be for the foreseeable future…

George: I think Scar is probably the greatest Disney villain ever created. He’s so clever and witty. I love not only my role but the whole artistic experience of the stage show which continues to surprise me. 

Shaun, you play Mufasa in The Lion King, and George, you play Scar. How does it feel to have now played each other's nemesis for well over a decade?
Shaun: We’ve been very close for fifteen years, he’s my best friend. If things ever go wrong in our scenes, we have each others’ backs. Once my mask went flying across the stage. I’m looking at George, George is looking at me, and George just casually walked over and picked up my mask and gave it back to me, and we carried on. It’s about that level of trust on stage. 
George: I always tell people that I have four sisters and I always wanted a brother, I never realised that it would turn out to be this 6ft brute from east London. That’s how close we are. Off stage, we train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu together – we’ve done so for over ten years now - we even do it between shows. Shaun’s a black belt, I’m a brown belt. There’s that spirit of competition between us. 

The Lion King is the West End’s best-selling stage production. What do you think it is about the show that brings audiences back again and again?

Shaun: Where to even start? It’s timeless. There really is something in it that everyone, no matter where they are from, seems to identify with. The story seems to transcend languages and cultures and age groups. Alongside that you have the pure spectacle of it all - the music and the harmonies and the costumes and the colours - it’s something special. You can’t pigeon hole it as any one thing, it stands alone. It's a masterpiece.

George: One reason for The Lion King’s success has got to be the music, it is the the ultimate soul music. Every night I see that the show appeals to every single age group on a different levels, from the spectacle that the kids are amazed at through to the story that the adults are fully invested in - it is Shakespeare after all the return of the prodigal son!

Do you each have a favourite moment, or line of dialogue in the show where you most feel that you embody your character?

Shaun: My favourite moment constantly changes. I love ‘Be Prepared’, particularly right at the end when everyone in the show is really giving it their all at the same time -  the hyenas are all scared and Scar’s at his most terrifying. It’s such a climactic moment and I’m side stage about to go on so it sets me up for my next scene.

George: My favourite moment is when I'm at the side of the stage right at the beginning of the show during "The Circle of Life". I literally stand watching this extraordinary event unfold before my very eyes and I've got the best seat in the house. Then Shaun comes out of the rock and we look at each other and give each other a nod. We have done this every night for 15 years, it's like, we’ve got this.

How are you both celebrating your 15th anniversary in the show? Surely there are some big celebrations to be had - it's an outstanding achievement!

Shaun: We’re planning on celebrating together and grabbing a burger!

George: I have to say we’ve been blown away by the reaction to this. I was just going to put up an Instagram post but everyone has been so kind. The Lion King did an amazing video for us which completely took us by surprise and has had the most incredible reactions. And of course, I’ll be celebrating with Shaun.

You can book tickets to see The Lion King in London, here.

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