The Lion King costumes at the V&A
Julie Taymor, director of the stage musical version of the Lion King explains the thinking behind the Tony award-winning costumes for the production which she also designed
Geoff Marsh: With theatre it’s quite a difficult thing to preserve a record of a live performance. For most of them, once the production is over – that’s it. And so we collect all sorts of material – photographs, programmes, posters and all the rest of it – to try and cover the history of the production, and also allow people in the future to understand the history of the performance and how it was developed. One of the best ways of doing this is through costume.
Julie Taymor: What I love, and I love as a designer and as a director, is to see the detail that you can’t possibly see past the tenth row. For people who love the theatre and want to see all the work and the incredible detail that goes into all of these pieces, I think that is very inspiring.
GM: The department here has got about two and half thousand costumes, some going back to the 19th century, but obviously these are a fantastic addition because the Lion King is not only hugely successful, but I think has sort of passed into popular memory.
JT: When I was working on The Lion King, I had never been to Africa, but I had lots of books, lots of videos, lots of films, and saw all of these complicated, beautiful geometric kuba cloths and Kente cloths and various fabrics from different regions – and it wasn’t about a specific region in Africa – it’s not to rip off other cultures and just stick them down exactly. These are based on character and my own sculpture style – so it is inspired but then it’s come out in, hopefully, an original way.
GM: I think a genuine sense of Africa comes through it, and I think that is why it appeals all around the world – it doesn’t just appeal in New York and London – it’s been on stages all over the world and it’s got that universality and very, very few musicals ever get that.
JT: It is the essence of theatre itself, and when theatre is great there’s nothing better. You actually see people in the legs of the elephant, and see that sexy dancer moving the cheetah along and the strings that are attached to her head. All of those things are what move the audience – you would think that showing the simple techniques would ruin the magic, but it is quite the opposite – it is the magic. The whole thing makes you feel like you’re part of a real history and to be in theatre, in England, in this beautiful museum is a great honour.
As well as directing theatrical productions of all kinds, Julie Taymor is also a distinguished costume designer. In this short film, she explains the thinking behind her magical costumes for the stage version of the Lion King, which were generously donated to the V&A theatre and performance collections earlier this year