MADE IN COLCHESTER SEASON 2017
Here at the Mercury our costumes and set are made almost entirely in house! We decided to talk to our Spamalot designer Sara Perks and costume supervisor Corinna Vincent about the many wonderful and vibrant costumes you’ll see on stage!
What excites you about working on a show like Spamalot?
Sara: What can I say? It is Monty Python – who wouldn’t be excited?! And also the chance to work again with the teams at The Mercury, who I appreciate enormously. It is great to be putting out this large production, and putting it on tour. And we are going to have a ball creating this show!
Corinna: Spamalot has everything for costume: comedy, dance, history, technical costumes and trick costumes. I love the costume diversity of this show; the challenge is the scale of it (60-70 different costumes) and the fact they are nearly all being made.
Once you have Sara’s designs what is the process you go through to bring the costumes from the page and on to the stage?
Corinna: The first thing I do is read and analyse the script; then the designer and I sit down and discuss the costumes in detail thinking about practicalities like quick changes, laundry and maintenance; how the trick costumes will work. We also discuss the design, and how we are going to achieve it within the available resources.
The next stage is fabric shopping: In addition to shopping in Colchester, we will spend 3 full days shopping in London. 2-3 weeks online shopping for items like shoes, boots and accessories (although this is ongoing throughout the rehearsal period as well). Once we have fabric and actors measurements we draft all our own patterns from the individual designs to each actors sizes, using historical references as a guide. Then we make the costumes; fit them on the actors; alter them as required. Finally we add decorations, trim and embellishments before breaking down the costumes (that is making them look old, dirty and ragged as the design specifies). We are even hand painting the heraldry on the knights’ tabards!
Once all that is achieved, they finally get to be worn on stage… Then they need laundering and repairing (even the dirty and ragged ones!!!) So, they look as the designer intended from the first performance to the last.
What materials are you using for the costumes and how do you go about sourcing them?
Corinna: Everything from Silk to sequins (medieval sequins of course!!!) Silk is a great fabric for making period poor costumes as the weave is often quiet raw and uneven looking. It is also good to dye. But also cotton, linen, wool and some special fabrics.
Of course we have our knights who will be wearing armour and mail… Now we are not going to make our actors wear heavy steel, so we are looking at specialist materials that we can make look like armour that is much lighter. Our mail is real though, but made of aluminium, so it is actually lighter than many wools!
There are a number of characters in the show with many actors playing multiple roles, which will mean some very quick costume changes, are there any additional considerations you have to take when designing and making the costumes?
Sara: When I design a big musical, I don’t start doing drawings until I know what most of those multiple roles are. Because what I have to do to get the show to work is design a ‘track’ for an actor – i.e. all their costumes, which characters they are playing when and in what order. I quite often am designing a sequence of layers for actors, with some costumes underdressed and some overdressed because quick changes are so fast. Even before we have started rehearsals I know what the 3rd Knight of NI will be wearing under their long black gown – and it is definitely a different costume. We can also make economic decisions like using the same pair of medieval ‘trews’ all the way through for an actor but with different tunics, tabards and gowns.
You have worked together a lot in the past on various shows, what makes a successful partnership between the designer and the wardrobe team?
Sara: A good sense of humour! And respect for each other’s aims and goals. My primary aim is to make the show to look amazing – and whilst Corinna wants this too she has to get it in on budget and in time. She and the wardrobe mistress have to think about longevity of costumes and wear and tear – so we all have to work together to make the best decisions possible in the circumstances presented. Having a common language from past working experience is incredibly useful and saves an enormous amount of time.
Corinna: Communication! This comes in many forms: the designs are the main form of communication, especially for the makers! Obviously we talk; the designer will draw up an in-depth costume plot and scene breakdown taken from the script, detailing what each actor is wearing in each scene; shopping and choosing fabrics gives me an insight into what the designer is looking for as well.
The more you work together the better that communication becomes. The designer comes up with the ideas and my team and I have to realise them! Sara is particularly good at communicating with wardrobe as she has a great understanding and knowledge of the workings and practicalities of costumes.
What can audiences expect from this production of Spamalot that makes it different to the original?
Sara: I didn’t see the original so I can’t answer this one! But I can say I have been laughing a lot already, and we haven’t started rehearsals yet! I think it will be a bespoke experience for the Mercury’s audiences – much more up close and personal I suspect.
Corinna: It is going to be a lot of fun! We are referencing the much-loved film, but of course, there are many elements that are quite different from the film (the Lady of the Lake wasn’t in the original as an example!). It is much more of a musical than the film was, so more singing and dancing. We are retaining the classic aspects from the original with added theatrical sparkle!
The marvellous Monty Python Musical, our next Made in Colchester production, runs from Fri 21 April – Sat 13 May, tickets available from just £12. To get yours please visit our friendly ticket sales team, call us on 01206 573948 or click here!