Just me talking about costume-y kind of stuff
She Stoops to Conquer, 2012
Directed by Jamie Lloyd
Costumes and Scenery by Mark Thompson
She Stoops to Conquer, by Oliver Goldsmith, is a Restoration comedy. I've only ever designed this play as a project in grad school, but I would love to do it for real. The only Restoration comedy I've designed for MCC so far has been Beaux Stratagem. If you're not familiar with the plot, the story revolves around Mr. Hardcastle trying to get his daughter Kate married off to his friend's son, Mr. Marlow. Mr. Marlow is exceedingly shy and awkward around upper class "ladies", but exceedingly talkative and flirty with lower class "tarts". Kate tricks Marlow into thinking she's a house maid in order to get on with the courtship. Only once he's ensnared by her charming banter and good looks, is the trick revealed. There's two subplots involving Kate and Marlow's best friends, Constance and Hastings, who are also in love but do not have permission to marry, and Kate's step-brother, Tony Lumpkin, who wants his inheritance so he can spend it at the pub and date the buxom tavern wench Bet Bouncer, rather than marry Constance to keep her inheritance in the family like his mother Mrs. Hardcastle (the widow of Mr. Lumpkin) wants him to do. Of course everything works out and the three couples end up together, after five acts of scheming, sneaking, and running away, not to mention a jewel heist.
All photos credit: National Theatre and Marc Brenner.
The scenery changes for each act with the major advantage of having a revolve in the Olivier stage.
Act 1, 3, and 5 are set in the drawing room of the Hardcastle's home, Liberty Hall. There are comfy arm chairs and a roaring fire. It's exactly how I pictured the Gryffindor common room of the Harry Potter series would look like. Act 2 takes place in the Three Pigeons Tavern where Tony Lumpkin hangs out with his drunken friends and Bet Bouncer. Act 4 is in the grounds outside the Hardcastle's home near the horse pond. Mrs. Hardcastle falls into the horse pond and enters stage wet, muddy, and looking like she tramped through a swamp to get there.
The costumes are all appropriately mid-18th Century. Kate is kept in pink, while Constance is kept in yellow. Marlow is also in yellow, while Hastings is in blue and pink. Tony and his mother are both kept in green, while Mr. Hardcastle is in dark browns tending toward the burgundy in Act I, then changes his dressing gown and cap, for his powdered wig and green frock coat in Act 3. Mr. Hardcastle dresses a bit plainer than the young lovers, while Mrs. Hardcastle is more extravagant. Tony Lumpkin's clothes are shabby and rough, like they've had a few too many, survived a bar fight, then were slept in for a few days afterwards. Indeed, at one point, he sloshes a mug of ale all down his shirt front. He's a mess. The aristocrats are obviously more colorful and fashionable than the servants. The servants costumes tend toward the earth color spectrum, while at the same time being faded and of plainer fabrics. Every character has only one costume with the exception of Kate, who changes into her plainer dress as her maid disguise, complete with white mob cap and apron. The only problem I had with that costume was the very large zig zag print on the fabric. It felt a little too modern and stood out from the rest of the fabrics that were used in the show.
Treasure Island, 2015
Adapted by Byrony Lavery
Directed by Polly Findlay
Scenery and Costumes by Lizzie Clachan
Clicking on the link will take you to her website.
MCC also produced this play (different adaptation) back in 2007. It's a challenging show for the scenic designer what with having to build a ship onstage. We did it outside at the Bosque River Stage, which gave it the benefit of having water in the background. As our Waco springs usually bring a lot of rain and sometimes flooding, this year the Bosque had flooded a lot so that the first six rows of seats were underwater and had washed away the beginnings of the set we had previously been working so hard to build. After a delay of a couple of weeks for the water to recede, we were able to rebuild the set fortunately. Unfortunately, the receding waters left behind an amazing amount of dead fish. So, the stage absorbed the stench of an 18th C pier. We told ourselves it added to the verisimilitude.
Robert Louis Stevenson famously said Treasure Island was a book for boys. In this female led production, (both the adapter and the director are female) the creatives were aware that there were in actuality many female pirates and that they were infamous for being more sadistic than the men. Their research led them to re-imagine the roles of Jim Hawkins, Dr. Livesay, and several of the sailors/pirates, as female. We find out Jim's given name is Jemima early on. In fact, Jim's gender is remarked upon often by everyone she meets, but it makes little difference to the plot. Patsy Ferran, a Spanish actress raised in England, plays Jim. She is an amazing talent. She had just graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art when she was cast.
Another unusual casting choice is Arthur Darvill (Rory from Doctor Who) as Long John Silver. Not that he didn't do an excellent job as LJS, but "Rory" is seemingly too young and pretty to be a scary pirate. Indeed, even with the missing leg, grimy clothes, and dirty, bearded face, he still manages to be a sexy bad boy. Clearly this is what the director was going for, it's just LJS is normally a big bear of a man and not a Johnny Depp-esque Captain Jack Sparrow.
The acting (and singing) is excellent. It's a stunningly good ensemble show, but the real star of the production is design/tech of the ship, The Hispaniola, the storm it sails through, and the stars that guide it. I have included several videos where you can see the raising of the ship out of the stage floor, the lighting and sound effects of the storm, and the lighting for the astronomy lesson.
The costumes are wonderful as well. As with any ensemble show, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. All the pirates and sailors are costumed in motley of colorful, tattered garments that combine like pieces in a patchwork quilt to create a most interesting and unusual design.
All photos credit: National Theatre and Marc Brenner.
Here's a video of the stage transforming into the Hispaniola: all three stories of it.
Here's a clip of the awesome storm sound and lighting effects.
Here's a clip of the awesome lighting effects in the astronomy lesson.
One Man, Two Guvnors, 2011
Directed by Nicholas Hynter
Scenery and Costumes designed by Mark Thompson
All photos credit: The National Theatre and Marc Brenner.
One Man, Two Guvnors, by Richard Bean, is an adaptation of the Italian commedia play Servant of Two Masters by Goldoni. MCC just did that show to open our season in the fall of 2019. I had never seen or read this adaptation before so I was really excited to see a production of it. All I knew about it before I saw it, is that it stars James Corden as the Truffaldino character and is set in the early 1960's in England. Here's a plot summary from the National Theatre's website:
Fired from his skiffle band, Francis Henshall becomes minder to Roscoe Crabbe, a small time East End hood, now in Brighton to collect £6,000 from his fiancée’s dad. But Roscoe is really his sister Rachel posing as her own dead brother, who’s been killed by her boyfriend Stanley Stubbers. Holed up at The Cricketers’ Arms, the permanently ravenous Francis spots the chance of an extra meal ticket and takes a second job with one Stanley Stubbers, who is hiding from the police and waiting to be re-united with Rachel. To prevent discovery, Francis must keep his two guvnors apart. Simple.
Here's the Official Trailer:
Act I takes place in the home of Charlie "the Duck" Clench and his daughter Paulina-- the Pantalone and Clarice characters in the original version--where we are introduced to all the characters. It's mostly a one costume per character kind of show. Clench is wearing a dark pinstripe suit, Pauline is wearing a pink floral late 1950's dress with a net petticoat and white heels. Her hair is worn in a bouffant. Her fiance, Alan Dangle (the Silvio character) wears all black (he's an actor) with hair that's too long, black leather jacket, black ribbed turtle neck, black chinos and black Beetle boots. Alan's dad, Harry Dangle (Doctor Lombardi), is also wearing a pin-stripe suit (he's a criminal defense lawyer for the Mafia) but looking much more like Uncle Vernon Dursley than anything else. Clarice's maid, Smeraldina, in this play is Dolly, Clench's secretary/accountant. She knows where all the money is and where all the bodies are buried. Dolly is sporting a ginger beehive hairdo, a tight tweed skirt, and sweater set. Francis (Trufaldino) shows up to put a stop to the engagement party with his first guvnor, Roscoe Crabbe, the small time East End hood. But of course it's really Rachel his sister, in disguise. Rachel is of course the Beatrice character whose brother was killed by her boyfriend, Florindo, or in this version, Stanley. "Roscoe" is wearing another dark pin striped suit with a hat. Francis is wearing a three piece suit in brown plaid with a vest that's a bit too short and pants that are hemmed a bit too high for fashion.
Act II moves to the street in front of Lloyd Boateng's inn, The Cricketers' Arms. Lloyd is the Brighella character. Lloyd is a Jamaican national and is the only character who changes costumes every time we see him. We meet Stanley too, who is staying there. Stanley is wearing a blue blazer and a tie.
Act III goes inside the Cricketers' Arms for the hilarious dinner scene. Gareth and Alfie are the waiters who are helping Francis keep his two guvnors in food. Alfie is particularly good, performing perfect pratfalls and other physical gags. The slapstick has been traded for a cricket bat in this scene, and Alfie gets hit with it several times, as well as falling down the stairs.
Act IV is back out on the street, but we've moved closer to the end of it where the pier is, for the climactic lovers' suicide attempts and discovery of their true identities. We see Stanley jump of the pier into the water before Rachel can get there. While Rachel is contemplating jumping, Stanley miraculously appears on the pier soaking wet. The reunion is particularly silly and ends with them stripping out of their wet clothes and embracing with their pants down, revealing two pairs of white boxers, black socks and sock garters. Lloyd shows up to tell them to get a room.
Act V is back to the Clench's house for the happy resolution of all three couples. At this point, "Roscoe" has shed his suit to become Rachel in a dress. All of the scene changes are covered by Charlie's old skiffle band performing original songs with various members of the cast. The music was written and performed by a real-life skiffle band, Grant Olding and The Craze.
Twelfth Night, 2017
Directed by Simon Godwin
Costumes and Scenery by Soutra Gilmour
If you click on the link it will take you to her website.
All Photos Credit: Marc Brenner for The National Theatre and Soutra Gilmour.
Twelfth Night is a favorite of mine. I've done it twice before--once at UTEP back in the early 1990's when I was a student and was the wardrobe mistress, dresser, and hair stylist. And again last spring for MCC. Both times we did it with period appropriate costumes. My favorite production that I've seen was Texas Shakespeare Festival's in 2015. It was set in a later period (1810's) and had the most wonderful original music. The National Theatre's version is set in the present day and it does not disappoint.
Soutra Gilmour designed both scenery and costumes (as is so often done in the UK) for this production. The set steals the show as it usually does in the Olivier space due to its stage that both revolves and is on a corkscrew lift that enables the scenery to both appear from and disappear into the floor. This set doesn't take advantage of the lift, but makes excellent use of the revolve. The set is a huge step pyramid (with functional stairs where many scenes are played) that provides four different playing spaces and the surprise element of opening and closing like pages of a book which provides another two playing spaces after intermission. On one side is the interior of Olivia's house, the opposite side is the exterior of Orsino's. As the set rotates around, we get the exterior of Olivia's house which becomes both a courtyard with a fountain, and a garden with a jacuzzi. Orsino's exterior walls open up into the interior of The Elephant (the pub where Antonio is supposed to meet Sebastian). Olivia's exterior walls open up like windows into the interior of a church featuring a giant neon cross where Olivia marries Sebastian.
Pictures credit: Marc Brenner for The National Theatre
D Radley-Bennett Vimeo of the Storyboard animation for the scenery. It's amazing. You must click on this link to see it in action. Words fail to describe how awesome it is.
As with many of Shakespeare's comedies, a girl disguises herself as a boy so that she can function in society. This production took gendered roles to a whole new level with their casting choices. The roles of Feste, Fabian, and Malvolio were all played as women. Tamsin Greig playing Malvolia. I loved her as Fran in Black Books. Terry Pratchett fans will remember her as the reporter Miss Crisplock Going Postal. Neil Gaiman fans will remember her as Lamia in the Neverwhere mini-series. She's a wonderful actress and is both perfectly pompous and pity-able as Malvolia. Another interesting casting choice is that Viola and Sebastian were played by Actors of Color, adding a lovely diversity to the romances. Another modernization included the street fight between Viola and Andrew where Antonio rescues her, was moved into The Elephant which was now a neon lit nightclub with a Drag Queen entertainer, singing the "To Be or Not to Be" speech from Hamlet as a torch song. I laughed so hard I snorted!
Malvolio's yellow stocking with cross-garters is always good for a laugh, but Malvolia gets the BEST costume in the whole show and is possibly the best Malvolio costume in the world, because it's not just one costume, but THREE! She comes out in a Periot sad clown costume over her yellow stockings and black cross garters and then strips that off to reveal a Playboy bunny-esque cone-boobed leotard with propellers on her nipples, covered by a skirt (unfortunately no photo of her wearing it in its second incarnation, although you can see where it's laying on the steps behind her in the second photo) and then strips off the skirt and turns on the propellers and they actually spin! OMG this was the most hilarious thing I've ever seen! I'm so glad that the National Theatre decided this was clip-worthy!
The next best costume was that of Andrew Aguecheek, who is dressed as a hipster with a man bun! So funny. Sir Toby is not padded out to be obese nor is he played by an already fat actor. In this production he becomes more of a scummy Leisure Suit Larry-esque character with more of a 1960's Brat Pack vibe. This is also the first time I've seen all of Olivia's ladies in waiting, as well as Maria all dressed in black. It makes so much more sense to do it that way, so that the first scene where "Cesario" meets Olivia and doesn't know which is the lady of the house, actually seems plausible.
The second time that Cesario visits Olivia to woo her, Olivia invites "him" back to her jacuzzi where Toby and company are having a pool party and everyone is in swim wear. Olivia hands Cesario a beach towel and a tiny gold Speedo to put on (which never happens) and then ends up pulling "him" into the pool fully dressed. Cesario is in a white men's shirt at the time which has now gone all see-thru in an unexpected and horrifyingly Wet T-shirt contest way. "He" is then forced to face away from Olivia while she is desperately trying to woo "him". Eventually Cesario is forced to get out, grabbing the towel, and clutching it in front of "his" chest.
Theatre in the Time of Corona
It's been a long time since my last blog. Normally by now I'd have written about Dallas Fan Expo, the newly revived HOT Con, our last two shows: The Tinker of Tivoli and Silent Sky, Sherwood, and Scarborough Faire. I'd be looking forward to writing about EGX (formerly Geekfest) and our annual trip to Kilgore for the Texas Shakespeare Festival. But here were are in the middle of a global pandemic and for the first time since the Spanish Flu of 1918, the theatres have closed. It's our own modern day plague. Any day I expect we'll have a ginormous fire that will burn most of London down, yes it's really that bad.
So far I've had one former student catch it. I don't know anyone else personally who has it, but even so, most of my theatre friends are out of work as are Rob's musician friends. I have two nurse friends on the front lines dealing with Covid patients every single day. Most of my sewing friends are making masks, which is great and I applaud them. Sarah was at her grandma's and they made masks for the whole family. Sarah broke five needles doing it, but hey! we have masks to wear to HEB. The rest of school is worse than cancelled, it's still going on but all online, which means I'm teaching my students and homeschooling my three children at the same time. None of what I'm doing is great, but it's something.
The only thing keeping me sane is theatre. I'm going through Netflix series like Fig Newtons and Chai, which is rapidy. I've finally gotten to watch all of last year's Oscar winners and am waiting for this year's winners to stream. Fortunately, there's been a huge outpouring of love from the theatre community and some theatres have been streaming their past shows. TSF is streaming a new (old) play every Saturday through May and The National Theatre in London is streaming one every Thursday from now till May. Even better, Bloomsbury has made all of its theatre offerings available as a free trial to colleges which includes all 30 of The National's productions. Which means I have till May 31 to watch the 29 I hadn't seen yet. We saw Frankenstein in the cinema for Rob's birthday two years ago. So to keep myself from going crazy and to keep my mind sharp, I've decided to write blogs on the shows that I'm watching.
Here's a list of upcoming National Theatre productions that I will blog about next week:
One Man, Two Guvners with James Corden
Twelfth Night with Tamsin Greig as Malvolio
She Stoops to Conquer