‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ West End star Christopher Jared on becoming Aslan
The actor transforms into the majestic, godlike lion of Narnia in Sally Cookson's stage adaptation of C. S. Lewis's novel at the Gillian Lynne Theatre.
Christopher Jared had never read The Chronicles of Narnia until he landed the iconic role of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. So, just like the four Pevensie children venturing through the wardrobe into the 100-year winter, Jared was also discovering the magical land for the first time.
“I was a big fan of science fiction and fantasy when I was a child, but not this story, sadly,” Jared said. “I read it now, as an adult, and I know I would have enjoyed it.”
Jared voices the majestic lion, portrayed onstage by a grand puppet, and he also performs in the ensemble in Michael Fentiman’s magical production at the Gillian Lynne Theatre.
Jared joined the production for the national tour ahead of the current West End run, but the show began back in 2017, when Elliott and Harper produced a new version at West Yorkshire Playhouse with playwright Sally Cookson at the helm. The play then transferred to London’s Bridge Theatre in 2019.
London Theatre spoke with Jared about what it means to take on a timeliness literary classic, working with puppeteers onstage, and why he was nervous to take on this role at first.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is playing at the Gillian Lynne Theatre. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe tickets are available on London Theatre. Book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe tickets.
Aslan is one of the great literary characters, and many even see him as a spiritual leader. Did you feel any sense of pressure as a performer taking on a role like that?
Before we began rehearsals, I remember getting somewhat anxious about having that status; everyone's very reverent around [Aslan]. And I thought I wouldn’t be comfortable being an actor in that dynamic. But, of course, you get into a rehearsal room, and once everybody's energy is playing out towards each other, it becomes less of an issue.
It's really an ensemble piece, and our [performing] tracks are so busy, up until the point we become these principal parts. Aslan doesn't appear until very late in the book, and in our adaptation, from his arrival to his departure, I think 20 minutes of the play passes. So it's really a short section of the play. But of course, with all of the other disciplines that [director] Michael Fentiman was keen to introduce with musicality, puppeteering, and dance, there's little time for respite. So everybody's really busy.
Do you perform in the ensemble as well?
Yeah! I'm a hedgehog at one point with a big spiky hat playing the guitar. We're all evacuees. Early on in the show, I play a soldier. Michael is notorious for not wanting to waste any of the talent.
When you’re playing Aslan, you’re voicing a huge puppet, which is handled by a three-person team. What is that experience like for you as an actor?
It's fascinating. It wasn't without its difficulties during rehearsals because we didn't know what the language should be. And to some extent, we're still searching for clues. It’s a great exercise of listening to one another, something that we're continuously taught to be better at.
When we're trying to work in synchronicity with each other, it takes a lot of concentration. It takes a lot of peripheral work. And when it doesn't feel right, we notice that we fall out of sync with each other. So it's a really sharp, active exercise of trying to complement one another. There'll be little signals given with pinky toes that suggest that we've moved a little too far down stage or there are a lot of unspoken conversations.
What are your interactions like with the other performers onstage when you’re voicing Aslan?
We talked a lot about the focus of the actors and the puppet and rehearsals, and we did agree that there are moments when the focus can be with me, the human aspect of Aslan. But we agreed that largely it needed to be with the puppet. So I'm often looking instead at the back of the lion's mane instead of at my scene partner. There’s a lot of removing ego and trusting that the image out front isn't what we're getting.
Aslan’s entrance is very momentous and highly anticipated. What is that moment like for you as the performer?
It's fantastic. We played some really full school audiences on the tour, and with Aslan's entrance, you get a real vocal, visceral response, and it's electrifying. Really exciting to see. Hundreds of kids get excited by your work and that's really liberating. Most of the time. Once or twice, my head's been caught by the rear of the puppet and I've fallen flat on my bum. And those times it takes a little more might to stand back up and try and channel that majesty.
What do you think makes this story so timeless?
For kids, I'd imagine it's the fantasy aspect. Our heroes are definitely these four Pevensie children as we charted their journey through Narnia, to the thrones of Cair Paravel, and I found that fantasy element gripping.
But for adults, I think the hidden message of the show is really similar to the experience that we all share from the last three years. We can call our Covid experience, the 100-year winter. What the woodland creatures in Narnia are looking for is not too dissimilar to what our theatre audiences are looking for now and what the population of the planet is looking for – that reconnecting and finding sun, sunlight and joy. It's really uplifting.
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