Aslan on Stage (Part II)

Liz Crowther as Lucy and Bernard Kay as Aslan on the set of the 1967 television production of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

In Part I we got to see a few examples of a puppet Aslan that served as the character in a staged version; now I’ll talk about the human-actor Aslan.

Though puppet Aslan has the advantage of looking grand and mystical — especially accompanied by specialty lighting and sound effects — its use limits Aslan as a character. He’s relegated to a background role. He can’t romp with Lucy and Susan or be bound and stabbed by the White Witch on the Stone Table. (How the puppet managed the latter I’m not sure — maybe it was in silhouette?) Neither can he convey a lot of emotion with his limited movements, leaving it up to the voice actor. Thus, some productions choose to have him played by a human actor.

The photo from the top is from the first dramatization of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which was a British ITV version from 1967, a mere four years after Lewis’s passing. Sadly, only a few minutes of the show remain, as it was customary at the time for the BBC to film over old videotapes. (That the older episodes of Monty Python were preserved at all was a stroke of luck.) I am not wowed by this dolorous dog-faced boy depiction. It looks like it would really hurt to peel all that hair off after the day’s filming.

So, most productions opt for an Aslan that only suggests he is a lion, usually with brown and gold clothing,  a manelike wig, and accents of fur. Human Aslan, in these pictures, is full of masculine strength and vitality with a touch of human Rock Star.

One costume you do NOT want is this pajama look for Aslan, no matter how young the audience.

Then there’s the Aslan based after the Broadway musical version of Disney’s The Lion King which combines both actor and puppet: the actor wears a headpiece of a lion’s head which is dominant in their appearance but static, while conveying movement and action with their human body.

I think this “double head” version is quite effective, once you get over the initial shock of two faces.

This one is more African-inspired and clearly cribbed from the Disney musical. This might be the moment Aslan shows Peter the distant castle of Cair Paravel and tells him one day it will be his, though Aslan is grinning too giddily for my taste.

A pudgy-faced, scowling Aslan in a very Christlike robe, and an actor with a touch of Jesus in him as well.

This Aslan, from a new, post-COVID, British production (as of May 2022) has both a human actor AND a lion puppet,  the two moving in tandem I expect. The set design is noteworthy too, the “portal” nature of the fantasy suggested by the circular opening in the back, which can also serve as a sun or moon.

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  1. […] stage costumes are especially prone to misfiring on the conceptual side, as I talked about in these posts. This one, however, hits a new low. It’s way too cheap and shoddy-looking. And the way the […]

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