Stephen Thorne is probably one of Great Britain’s hardest working actors, though it is likely that the majority of people have no idea what he looks like. He is a voice actor, spending most of his time doing radio drama and reading audio books. He has done theatre work and television, but it is as a voice actor that he has excelled. In this article I shall write about three of his memorable performances.
He first came to my attention in 1981 during the BBC’s groundbreaking, 13-hour radio adaptation of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”. In this glorious soundscape of famous and distinctive voices, Thorne provided that of Treebeard, the Ent of Fangorn Forest. It is a small part in such a production, but Thorne’s voice gave the character a gravitas that lifted the role well above the ordinary.
This production, surely one of the most famous radio dramas made, was dramatised by Brian Sibley and Michael Bakewell, both familiar names to radio audiences. It starred Ian Holm (as Frodo), Michael Hordern (as Gandalf), Robert Stephens (as Aragorn), Peter Woodthorpe (as Gollum) and John le Mesurier (as Bilbo). Note the connection to the later film, in which Ian Holm played Bilbo. Another good point for trivia fans is that Bill Nighy, for once on radio not sounding like himself, played the part of the faithful Sam.
As the year 1972 ended and 1973 started Thorne played the part of Omega in the Doctor Who story “The Three Doctors”. At the time I was more interested in the on-screen relationships between the three doctors, especially that between Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton: it was only years later, when watching it again on DVD, that I really appreciated the towering, commanding performance given by Stephen Thorne. The Omega character wears a metal helmet throughout (well almost, but I don’t want to spoil the plot) and you never get to see his face, making the role perfect for a radio actor. Luckily Thorne’s tall frame matches his strong, proclaiming voice and he steals all his scenes from his more famous cast members. Deservedly, Omega has become one of the Doctor’s most memorable foes.
In the 1980s BBC radio produced dramatisations of all seven of C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books. An inspired casting director gave the important part of Aslan to Stephen Thorne. Aslan is a lion and Thorne uses the full range of his voice to make you believe that he is a lion. He roars, he shouts angrily, he talks, he whispers and sometimes he merely breathes. In the first book, “The Magician’s Nephew”, Aslan sings Narnia into existence and it’s one of radio drama’s most magical sequences.
A few years ago “Focus on the Family” produced another series of dramatisations of these books. They employed some very famous names, including Paul Scofield as narrator. The result was very impressive, but the character of Aslan, played by David Suchet, was somewhat insipid in comparison to Thorne’s performance. Suchet does roar, but in my opinion he never sounds like a lion.