There are wonderful resources relating to the RSC’s costume collection!
Firstly, there’s the collection itself – hundreds of garments and accessories, from Laurence Olivier’s costume for ‘Macbeth’ in 1955, to the jeans and t-shirt worn by David Tennant as ‘Hamlet’ in 2008.
Then there’s the supporting material held by the SBT – original designs, production photos showing costume worn in performance, and much more.
Costume design plays a key role in bringing Shakespeare to the stage. It helps to set the mood – of power, menace, enchantment, humour. The shape, weight and style of a costume will influence how an actor interprets his/her role – how a character moves, talks and walks as the action unfolds.
‘Shakespeare by Design’, a project funded by Arts Council England, is an exciting opportunity to review these collections and make links between them, in order to create the potential for new ways to access and use them.
So how are we getting on? Three months into the project, we’ve already examined over 150 individual costume items, assessing condition and creating priorities for conservation and storage improvements. We’ve linked them to supporting material that helps to provide context and meaning.
We’re also learning what a wide variety of design styles are represented in the collection – and that it’s not always the most glamorous and elaborate costumes that make the greatest impact!
Take this shirt.
Hanging on a rail in the costume store, it isn’t very impressive – a simple shape, made from a shiny man-made fabric dyed with blue splodges!
But design drawings and production images show the shirt in context, worn by Ben Kingsley as ‘Demetrius’ in Peter Brook’s ground-breaking 1970 production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.
Sally Jacobs’ stripped-down design set the play within a bright white box, with costume that could belong to any time or place – or none at all.
This simple, tie-dyed shirt, from a legendary production, is probably one of the most important garments in the costume collection.
Maggie Wood & Robyn Greenwood
‘Shakespeare-by-Design’ project team.