Friday, 18 November 2016

Kinky Boots and Aladdin in the West End- Feel Good Witty Humour and Cheesy Escapism are coupled with Dazzling Costume and Lavish Sets

Earlier this week I went on a short trip to London and while I was there I saw two amazing West End musicals, namely Kinky Boots and Disney’s Aladdin. Both are relatively new productions and although very different in style and story are united in their ability to transport you into their worlds and leave you glowing with happiness, well after you have left the theatre. Costume wise they were also both designed by the same man, Tony nominated designer Greg Barnes, although they are different settings it is clear there is a common style between the two. They both have a bold use of colour and utilise glamourous sparkly fabrics creating sumptuous visual displays.

First I saw Kinky Boots, this feel good heart -warming musical, tells the story of a Northampton shoe factory, which on the brink of shutting down decides to start catering for a ‘niche market’ of thigh night boots for drag queens in a range of electric colours. After factory owner Charlie Price has a chance meeting with a Drag Queen called Lola while in London.  

The show is full of catchy songs (written by none other than eighties pop star Cyndi Lauper) that will make you want to sing along. The songs are accompanied by energetic choreography performed by the whole cast. Particular highlights include Lola’s first visit to the factory; which on being presented with Charlie’s sensible but dull  interpretation of drag footwear, breaks into song exclaiming ‘burgundy is the colour of cardigans and hot water bottles red is the colour of sex!’ Lola asserts her vison of what the Kinky Boots of the show’s title will look in the number ‘Sex is in the Heel’ which sees Lola’s entourage of queens known as ‘the Angels’ strut, split and backflip their way around the factory. It really is a fabulous scene!
Dancing in the Factory
The set of the factory itself is used to great effect in ‘everybody say yeah’, the unveiling of the Kinky Boots prototype, the cast dance on the production line conveyer belts in a crowd pleasing number that will make you want to get up and dance too.
Rule Britannia

Apart from the visual spectacle to enjoy Kinky boots is also incredibly funny, packed with wit from start to finish; from Lola’s explanation of the difference between drag and transvestism: ‘a tranny looks like Winston Churchill in his mum’s knickers’ to Laurens song ‘the History of Wrong Guys’ which many a women could relate to. The show promotes a positive message of ‘accepting someone for who they are’ but at the same time doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s all about the spectacle and fun.

Where costume is concerned, the highlight is the finale where Lola saves the day accompanied by her Angels dressed in six fantastically glamourous costumes on various themes. From a Rule Britannia girl to a Vivienne Westwood inspired tartan number, yes the Austrian ballet wore something similar in the Vienna New Year’s Day concert a couple of years ago. The finale is a celebration of glitz and glamour and of course the all-important Kinky Boots; all the cast, even the women join on stage dressed in a pair. More risqué costumes are sported by the angels in the Simon (Lola) vs Dom boxing scene. While in ‘Hold me in your Heart’ Lola is dressed in a Shirley Bassey style flowing gown. The look is so feminine for a second you almost forget she is a drag queen.
The Finale and the Boots
Kinky Boots is probably one of the best musicals I have seen, it is so much fun with uplifting songs, fab choreography and a positive story I would definitely go see it again I left the theatre wanting to strut in a pair of kinky boots myself!


Transferred from Broadway Disneys Aladdin brings tio life the much loved animated film for stage.
The show is one of visual splendour with no expense spared; mesmerizing and spellbinding the world of Acrabah is rendered in sumptuous jewel colours. The sets are lavish and extravagant. None more so than in the biggest number of the show ‘friend like me’ which sees the cave of wonders transform from gold encrusted cavern to dazzling skyscrapers. Complete with a tap sequence that is reminiscent of the classic razzamatazz musicals of old.  This really is the highlight of the show as the ensemble twist and turn in an array of costumes and dance styles. Similar extended sequences are found in Prince Ali and Arabian Nights the opening number.
Friend Like Me
Trevor Dion Nicholas (imported from the Broadway production) is fantastic as the Genie providing
Trevor Dion Nicholas as the Genie
just the right amount of wit and camp splendour. One of the highlights was his 2 minute medley of Disney songs from other shows as part of friend like me, fabulously silly but very enjoyable.
There are some changes and additions from the film, Jasmines father the Sultan is portrayed as less of a buffoon more of a stately, believer in honesty figure, for me this loses the whole feeling of him being taken for a fool and being a comical character. Perhaps this was done to make room for other comic elements, per civically Aladdin’s friends Omar, Kassim and Babkak who provide much of the humour. Baddies Jafar and Iago create humourful baddies complete with ‘scary crackling laughs’.

The classic number ‘A Whole New World’ is a lovely poignant moment Aladdin ad Jasmine are highlighted by spotlights and are set against a backdrop of starry night sky. This simplistic but dazzling staging works well however personally I would have liked to have seen projections (as they are used in other parts of the show) to create the effect of them  ‘flying around the world’ like it is portrayed in the film.  
A Whole New World
Its clear Aladdin is a sumptuous show; almost a pantomime without the dame as Michael Billington from the guardian described it. In terms of authenticity to Asian culture it is a bad example of western appropriation on many levels but as a piece of warm hearted escapism it succeeds in bucket loads. A feast for the senses, it’s a show that will captivate young audiences and does justice to the original animated film which captivated my generation and older.
Aladdin a fabulous wonderful spectacle full of fun!

Friday, 21 October 2016

Heart -Warming Charm for all the Family – Wind in the Willows at Theatre Royal Plymouth

The Wind in the Willows is a new musical version of Kenneth Grahame’s classic tale of friends Ratty, Mole, Badger and Toad and their adventures. The Show premiered this week at the Theatre Royal Plymouth and is going on a short tour before hoping to transfer to the West End. This new version comes with a book by Downton Abbey mastermind Julian Fellows as well as music and lyrics from George Stiles and Andrew Drewe who created the memorable songs from Marry Poppins.
Wind in the Willows Principal Cast
The show is a feel good heart -warming journey from start to finish; happy songs of provincial life fly by one after the other, period nostalgia for a simpler time is created in the music and costumes. Which draw on quintessentially British fashions between the 1920’s and 1940’s that evoke Grahame’s original illustrations. By using only iconic features of each animal, it reinforces the message that although it is a fictional story about animals it is really a story about people.

Things really start to get going once Toad becomes infatuated with the infamous motor car. Much like his driving, spectacles come thick and fast. From his grand transformation from glamping caravanner to motor menace; complete with 60’s inspired pop number including rap section, defiantly one of the most shamelessly cheesy bits of the show. The various locations are created with fantastic set pieces from the humble but cosy homes of Badger and Moles to a Dali style Toad Hall. A vast array of visual delights transport you through Toads escape from jail including a life size train, and barge; the extravagancies evident of its West End aspirations.
Toad the Glamping Caravaner
The highlight for me was the introduction of baddies the Wild Wooder’s, a hip stylish number with slick choreography. However the standout performance has to go to Neil McDermott who’s cockney gangster Chief Weasel evokes a mix of Russel Brands Flash Harry in 2007’s St Trinians film and Tom Hardy’s Alfie Solomon’s in 20’s set gang thriller Peaky Blinders. McDermott’s performance was the highlight of the show for me!!

In conclusion Fellows new production retains all the period charm of the literary classic and although it won’t set the house on fire it will leave you feeling happy and contented, full of joyous charm that I suspect will be around for a few years yet.  

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Adaptations and Recreations – 50 Years of Costume Design for Television Drama A Study Day at the V&A

On the 10th of September I attended the above titled event at the V&A. The day was split up into a series of talks/interviews given by various costume designers and makers. Who have worked on seminal productions; that Cosprop had provided most or all of the costumes for.
All the talks were very insightful on many levels, from how different designers work, to how changing needs in the industry have changed the way costumes are produced. Therefore today I am going to share some of my highlights from the day.

Cosprop is a costume house specialising in period authentic costume which can be hired for theatre, film and TV. The day was kick started with a talk given by Cosprop founder John Bright and Oscar/ Bafta winning designer Jenny Beaven who in the early years of Cosprop often co- designed with Bright on many of the Merchant Ivory films and they continue the partnership today. The talk was chaired and introduced by Theatre and Performance curator at the V&A Keith Lodwick.

Firstly Bright and Beaven talked about the process they used in their early films such as A Room with
a View and Howards End. In most cases designs weren’t produced; mood boards would be created to communicate their vision for the look of the whole film and then individual character boards would be produced for each character. When it came to producing the costumes Bright and Beaven explained how the industry expectations and methods of working were very different from today.

Bright explained how often in their earlier films original fabrics from say the Victorian period were used within costumes, an example was on display at the talk of Vanessa Redgrave’s Howards End costume using original Victorian velvet. Bright expressed how today this would not be possible because in most cases two or sometimes even three and four copies of a costume have to be made so period fabrics can’t be used. Furthermore the methods to create some fabrics aren’t permitted due to health and safety today. Therefore as Jenny Beaven said nowadays people have to buy modern fabrics that look period.

I was also lucky enough to find out what inspires these two wonderful visionaries and which is their favourite costumes that they have designed. Beaven said she differed from film to film with inspiration where as Bright often draws from John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini paintings. Beaven’s favourite costume was perhaps slightly surprising choosing Immortan Joe from 2015’s Mad Max Fury Road as she said ‘it was so different from anything she normally does’ while Bright picked a dress from Merchant Ivory film The Golden Bowl.
Back of Elizabeths Dress, Pride and Prejudice

The second talk focussed on the costumes in Persuasion (1995) and Pride and Prejudice (1995) with designers Alexandra Byrne and Dinah Collin. They explained how the first stage was to prepare mood boards and how much of the historical research was done at Winchester, Bath and Whitworth costume museums. The also stressed the importance of researching and using the right underwear as part of a costume to create the right silhouette or construct.
A dress from each film was on display and they discussed some of the features of these garments.

These included now cord had been put into the armholes and back seam of Elizabeth’s muslin dress in Pride and Prejudice, because it was such a fine fabric. Illustrating how period costume has to sometimes be adapted to withstand modern filmmaking.
An interesting fact, the yellow jacket in Persuasion was in fact made of millinery velvet. You can see details of the costume below.
Details of Costume from Persuasion
One of the most useful and interesting facts I gleaned from this talk, was that often designers send colour swatches of all the fabrics used in the costumes to the post production department to ensure fabric colours aren’t distorted in the final edit.

After lunch the third talk digressed from the main focus on the day (Cosprop). This time looking at The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970), designed by John Bloomfield. Where the previous talks showed what could be done with a fair amount of investment, Bloomfield discussed now he produced the costumes for the six part series on a tiny budget. He explained how a lot of the costumes were very rudimentary by today’s standards using old parts of jewellery glue gunned on card to make embellishments and using cheap upholstery fabric, it also evidenced how much technology has moved on since then and how these techniques just wouldn’t work today due to high definition TV.

The Dowager Countess Dress worn by Maggie Smith
The last talk focussed on the critically acclaimed period drama Downton Abbey looking at both the design and production of this seminal drama. The talk featured series 1 and 2 designer Susannah Buxton and series 3 designer Caroline McCall who was assistant designer on series 1 also. There were also three makers, Donna Simmons a Tailor, and Thais Demontrond and Caroline Green who were Women’s Makers.

They talked about a whole range of points from how different colour schemes were decided for each of the Crawley sisters (reds for Mary, greens for Edith and blues for Sybil) to the search for the right servants cap for the house maids in series 1. The aprons and dresses were actually modelled on originals from the Cosprop archive.

They also explained that because there was such a large amount of costumes needed for the series, many of the costumes were commissioned to be made by Cosprop. This also happened for special props that were needed such as the ‘family tiara’ worn by Lady Mary/ Edith, which was copied from a Cartier but made using less precious stones.

One particularly interesting anecdote explained how an original 1920’s dress that was damaged in the centre back and front was reassembled with the fronts used as sides and sides used as front and backs.

Detail from Dowager Countess Dress
The day ended with a brief presentation about the new John Bright Costume Collection Database which is being launched soon. Over the past year volunteers have been assisting in photographing and mounting costumes from John Bright’s collection of historical dress to be uploaded to an online research database. As the database will be up and running in the next few months I look forward to using it as part of my design research in my next term at university. The only disappointing thing was that I hadn’t heard about it sooner because I would have loved to have helped with the preparation!

Well that concludes my review of the Adaptations and Recreations study day at the V&A. It has defiantly left me with a lot to think about and take in as well as inspired me to keep following my dreams in the world of costume design. I’d like to leave you with this last quote said by Rosemarie Fernandez Day: “John Bright bought attention to real clothes” I don’t know about you but I defiantly agree. Its clear Cosprop and John Bright’s passion for authenticity has had fundamental influence on the way we all perceive period drama and will do for years to come.
 Images of Lady Cora's Dress from Downton Abbey

Monday, 26 September 2016

Seven Cultural Hotspot Highlights of East Sussex to Visit!

From the 9th -19th of September this year I went on a lovely holiday to East Sussex with my family. We visited some wonderful stately homes and several good museums. Therefore I thought I’d share with you some of my highlights from the trip that I recommend to visit if you’re passionate about history, art, fashion or design. 

One of the first places we visited was called Farley Farm; this was the home of the model and war photographer Lee Miller and her artist husband Roland Penrose. The house is uniquely decorated with Roland’s artwork and murals that he painted and many of Miller’s photographs are on display around the house and in the gallery / ticket area.  You are taken around the house on guided tour which was very insightful as you are able to learn about the stories behind many of the artefacts in the house.
Fire Place Harvest Mural
Personally I loved the interior design of the house particularly the fire place mural in the dining area, a surrealist interpretation of the harvest and symbols associated with it. The colours are warm and vibrant definitely a stand out piece.

Dresser at Farley Farm
Detail of Fireplace
As well as the house there is also a garden to walk around which features several abstract sculptures. It’s very picturesque on a lovely sunny day.

Farley farm is similar to another artist’s home in East Sussex, Charleston home of the Bloomsbury artists of the early 20th century. Although the art itself is completely different there is a common feeling of artistic liberation and content living. If you have been to Charleston then you should definitely visit Farley Farm and if you have been to Farley Farm definitely visit Charleston!
More details about Farley Farm can be found here:
and Charleston can be Found here:

The next place we visited was a National Trust property called Standen House; Standen is famous for its sumptuous Arts and Crafts interior. William Morris & Co lovers you will be in heaven! From the furniture to the carpets the walls to the upholstery all is rendered in rich romantic gothic patterns of greens, reds, blues and gold. It is simply gorgeous; the few snapshots below don’t do it justice in the slightest.  The property also has lovely grounds to walk around in.
The Living Room at Standen House

The other stand out home we visited was Chartwell in Kent and the home of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill unfortunately no photography is allowed in the house or studio so the only images I have to share are copies of some postcards I bought in the shop. It is a really interesting place showcasing a mixture of family, military and wartime history. The standout for me was the room showcasing all Churchill’s uniforms he wore for different engagements. From university dean to various military ones, as a costume student with a passion for millinery I was particularly taken with all the different hats.   However my favourite room was the dining area with the oval windows and elegant furniture it felt like something out of a period film, very stylish indeed.
The Dining room at Chartwell
There is also a small out building at Chartwell which is open to the public, this is Churchill’s Studio, he was an impressive artist and painted regularly. The walls are decorated floor to ceiling with his paintings and part of the room is set up like a work area. I loved the use of colour in his pictures.
Churchills studio
As well as National Trust properties I also visited several museums and galleries not least Bexhill Museum. Set back from the sea front and down from the landmark De la Warr Pavilion the Bexhill Museum houses an impressive collection of historical artefacts, period costume and motor history items. The Costume Gallery was the main attraction for me and I have to say I was very impressed. The gallery is arranged in a timeline going around the outside wall of the room. It tells the story of fashion history in relation to social history and clothing’s role in everyday life; with items ranging from the 1750’s up to the present day. In the centre of the gallery was a temporary exhibition of examining the changing face of the wedding dress. Antique dresses were displayed in cases ranging from Victorian up to the 1930’s and modern pieces, many on loan from their owners displayed on white plinths. As you will see from my photos there was a lot to see, some of which I feel will inspire my current costume work.

Another cultural highlight was the Brighton Museum; again this had an impressive costume collection and exhibition. There permanent collection tells the story of Brighton’s influence on designers who studied in the city as well as showcasing the range of street styles seen over the years. There temporary fashion exhibition was entitled ‘Fashion Cities Africa’ exploring the rise of fashion design in North African countries. The exhibition showcased unusual textures, bold electric uses of colour and hip silhouettes. It also introduced me to an area of fashion I had never really thought about before and now want to learn more about. The work was just so beautifully exotic, definitely worth a visit.  
There is also a large gallery in the museum that tells you all about the history of Brighton, a city with such an unusual vibe and known for its liberal attitude, its unsurprising it has a colourful history. I found this section really interesting, although I knew a bit about Brighton’s past. I defiantly learned a lot from the information and artefacts displayed. Worth a visit if you want to know more about Britain’s most bohemian city.

Another museum highlight was the performance gallery, displaying a collection of props, costumes
and masks communicating the history of carnivals and fancy dress there were some really unusual objects to be seen and all very theatrical.

As we were staying near to Hastings we also visited the Jerwood gallery, a modern art gallery it had on display an exhibition by mixed media artist Marcus Harvey, a collection of self -portraits by various artists and a one room exhibition entitled ‘The Boy who Bit Picasso’ this was by far the most interesting collection on display, not least because it related very well to our visit of Farley Farm. Picasso visited Farley Farm on a number of occasions and was friends with Miller and Penrose. 
The exhibition displayed many photographs taken by Miller of Picasso often with Miller/Penrose’s son Anthony (now owner of Farley Farm). The portraiture collection was also thought provoking, to see now different creatives view themselves.

One of the last places we went to was Scotney Castle, the castle itself is actually a ruin however there is also a stately house on the same sight. The house features striking architecture from the outside and elegant style on the inside and was home to the industrialist Hussey family. The old 14th century castle ruin is set in stunningly picturesque grounds and is the perfect place for a relaxing walk.  

Well that concludes my cultural hotspot highlights of East Sussex if any of the places mentioned appeal to you check them out I assure you, you won’t be disappointed!