Great Design on Stage

Great design is not limited to products or architecture. Great design turns up in so many different  places, sometimes its recognised and sometimes its not. Sometimes great design contributes to a great experience but is ultimately overshadowed by its environment.

I love the theatre. If I wasn’t so horrific at singing and dancing I might have harboured dreams of performing on a West End stage, but as it stands I am better at maths, engineering and design and so I will have to make do with harbouring dreams of designing for a West End stage.

I think in recent years we have seen numerous examples of Great Design on the stage. As film special effects become more advanced, audiences expect more, they expect to be wowed in the cinema and at the theatre. Not only that but new technology and investment means that stories, such as Ghost, that would previously have seemed impossible to portray well on stage have become massive hits full of mind-blowing effects.

Although not necessarily high tech, I think that the production of Disney’s Lion King is the perfect example of ‘Great Design’ on stage.

When I went to see it at the age of around 10 I was blown away by the animal puppets inhabited by the dancers. It would have been easy to just dress people up in costumes such as those in cats or shove people in to more exotic versions of pantomime horses. However Disney has never done things by half!

What I love about the puppets is how they have been designed to work with the dancers and with the choreography to capture the way the different animals move. From the birds perched on large flexible sticks to give the illusion of them sweeping and gliding through the air to the 14 and 18 foot Giraffes with long slender legs and necks, walking with a slight sway across the stage and the herd of antelope leaping gracefully as one towards Pride Rock, not to mention the large and imposing figure of an elephant which walks steadily and purposefully with a dancer in each leg, and which folds flat for better storage.


The puppets designed by Julie Taymor and Michael Curry do not try to hide the people behind them, they do not try to pretend to be animals, they instead capture the essence of the animal and the character. They are a beautiful representation, which is often so much more moving and effective than a realistic copy.

Here’s a couple of images of some of the puppets and costumes taken from the ‘Official London Theatre’ website.

If you’ve never seen the Lion King, or need to refresh your memory here’s a cheeky wee Youtube link to ‘The Circle of Life’.


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