Sunday, 26 March 2017

Inside a Costume Hire House: Bristol Costume Services

Spread across two floors Bristol Costume Services houses an array of costumes from the medieval to the modern day for men and women. Period costume from ancient to the 19th century is on the first floor and 20th century costume is on the second floor along with ‘light entertainment’ costume such as those used for pantomime, burlesque etc.

It is a vast place so as you can imagine I only saw a tiny snap shot of what they have in the two hours I was there. I mainly used the trip (with my university course) as a chance to research costumes that related to my latest project, a 1980’s outfit with an 18th century twist, in the jacket style . Therefore I firstly looked for 1980’s suit jackets and late 18th century caraco bodices. I was able to find several jackets and three bodices.

Starting with the 18th century bodices I examined the practical features of the garments, to gain a better understanding of the standard of production used in theatre costume making. The combinations of fastenings used in the three different examples of bodice were really insightful: one bodice was fastened with giant poppers as well as hook and bar tape for extra security. Another had hook and bars sewn on individual but alternated the sides the components were sewn on to. One wasn’t lined, perhaps to make the costumes more washable. However one was lined and sweat patches were sewn under the armholes to protect the silk fabric lining. The third one was only half lined on the tail coat style draped panel. This was probably because it was very full and long and may have shown on the underside.
Hooks and Bars and Poppers
Hooks and pars are sewn on alternative sides each pair for a more secure fasten.
Sweat patches preserve the fine silk lining
From a design perspective they were also inspirational. My design incorporates a peplum that forms into two points. Each of the three bodices had interesting examples of similar effects. One created a sharp point at the centre back by adding an extra pointed panel; this folds in when lying straight, by I reckon would splay out over a bum roll/full skirt. The second created a short flared peplum using box pleats; this doesn’t create any sort of point but would create a nice fit and flare line. 
The third bodice was fitted with a stomacher front panel which then flares out into a full almost tailcoat style shape at the back. This is cut in panels to create the very full shape. It was a very heavy garment because there was so much fabric in the back panel. The exaggerated, oversized collar and panelling suggested to me it had been a comical costume, also reflected in the fabric, and binding. The strong royal blue buttons and binding infer it was for a confidant character, the colour combination’s producing a bold striking design. I was also interested in the placement of the stripe pattern: the front and back panels in particular I felt was cut in an attractive way. However they didn’t match the stipes on the bodice/peplum waist seam, which would have improved the costume.  

I also needed to research 1980’s suit jackets so also went up to the 2nd floor to look at their 80’s stock. The 2nd floor I wouldn’t say is as ordered as the 1st. there is no lighting, and it is difficult to see the costumes if you are in the centre of the room so have to take everything over to the windows to see it properly. I mainly wanted to look at 1980’s jackets to examine their construction, Such as the size of shoulder pads and lining construction.

Whereas all the period stuff has clearly been made, their 20th century stock is mostly vintage clothing from the various periods. The jackets I looked at were vintage pieces from Jigsaw, Hobbs, Jacques Vert to name a few. From examining several pieces I was able to identify some key construction features: all have a 2 inch pleat in the centre back of the lining for ease, and the thickness of shoulder pads vary from approximately 6cm – 3cm. I also found a really nice pencil skirt, part of a two piece suit; it had a flattering waistband shape and placement of darts on the skirt back. 
As well as finding costumes to inform my research I also just looked around generally at the different stock. They have a vast selection of unusual pieces. From exquisite examples of fabric manipulation as seen on 18th century bodices and beautiful scalloped edged flouncy sleeves. To illustrious ethnic and embroidered fabrics used in Tudor dresses, capes and other exotic garments. I also came a across a rather unusual set of headdresses including a massive fairy-tale castle, the Titanic and landmarks of Europe they were very wacky and eclectic indeed. 
Some other highlights included the breaking down section which apparently includes some of the costumes used on the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies film and had a selection of mainly period costumes, that had been in some cases near destroyed; such as the bodice below which had been shredded and ripped within an inch of its life.
It would have been interesting to know if these pieces were once newly made costumes that had just become worn/damaged overtime so were chosen to be broken down or were made to be used as broken down costumes. The last highlight was a rather unusual medieval cape, which appeared to have been made of incredibly thick and weighty canvas and then painted with a design. If this could be done with slightly less heavy fabric, I feel it could be a really unusual way of creating medieval costumes where fabrics are difficult to source if you have a very specific motif that needed to be created. 
Facts and Figures

BCS charge £45 per week for a full costume (BCS define a full costume as a dress, petticoat, cape, hat, shoes. However they did say a dress and petticoat may also be considered a full costume in some circumstances)

Consecutive weeks would be charged at £22 pounds.

They don’t charge per item but as a complete outfit

They bought up Bristol Old Vic’s store and BBC Wales store when they sold their stock.

Sometimes they will offer to produce costumes but on condition that BCS keep the costumes for their stock.

I hope this gives you some idea of the wide ranging selection in style Bristol Costume Services has to offer. If you are looking to hire for a show I am sure you will find something to suit your needs, there is a great selection and it is well made especially as much of their stock has come from other wardrobe departments.

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.