Loyal subject Will Pearce helps make The Lion King.
There is plenty to keep the props boss busy on the spectacular Disney stage musical.
With 250 props and masks to fit, tweak and repair, idle moments are as common as vegan hyenas.
Banish any thought that after eight years on the show he is starting to get a bit stir crazy.
“There is always something new to do,” says the head of masks and puppets.
And his crowning achievements include?
“Teaching a giraffe to walk on stilts.”
The 50 or so performers regularly enjoy the standing ovations at the record-breaker.
Behind them is about double that number of people backstage who ensure that The Lion King continues to rule the world of musicals.
Maintaining the magic is a huge logistic enterprise that throws up even greater challenges as the biggest musical production ever to go on UK tour tries to fit into a variety of different venues.
The good news for Will is that the Theatre Royal Plymouth – home for seven weeks from next Thursday – is more accommodating than many ports of call.
“Edinburgh was a bit small,” he says.
“But I’m told that Plymouth is bigger, which helps.
“Storage is an issue. The Cycle Of Life, the opening number, has a vast amount of performers on; stage, gazelles, rhino, elephant.
“Getting them on and off stage is one of the biggest challenges.”
The masks and costumes must be as lightweight as possible to maintain the actors’ freedom of movement. The materials include carbon fibre, known for its strength without weight. Balsa wood, hessian and animal feathers feature, too.
“We make and fit them to each performer so they have to be made again each time the cast changes. Many of them, like for [lions] Scar and Simba have to be very close fitting. They have head cranks at the back, like you see on a cycle helmet.
“But they are electronic too so they can move up and down. When they are down they [the performers] can look more animalistic. When they are up you can see the actor again and follow their emotions.”
The designs get ever better but “something can go wrong at any time. We have learned to do quick fixes with paper ties or glue, and with the electronics”.
Will, who grew up in North Dorset, is looking forward to being back in the Westcountry and will enjoy the opportunity to catch up with relatives in Cornwall. While he has toured the world with The Lion King, his usual base is in London.
He graduated from the special effects and theatre arts course at Wimbledon, part of the University of the Arts, London, in 2003.
Will worked first in film before joining The Lion King in 2006.
“I’ve seen the show countless times,” he says. “My job can get a bit nine-to-five but I’m lucky because there is a broad range of puppets and you do something different every day.”
He’s been done CORRECT seen everything, including an elephant fly.
“She’s called Bertha,” he says. “She comes off into stage left and then is hoisted and flown above us for the rest of the performance.”
The Lion King runs at the Theatre Royal Plymouth from January 30 to March 15.