Since I began Theatre Room, I have been following the work of a puppet company called Little Angel Theatre (LAT). It was established in 1961 and one of only three building-based puppet theatres in the UK and is often referred to as the home of British puppetry. Their history is fascinating, with one of the original founders, puppet designer and maker Lyndie Wright, still working with the company 50 years on. In 2011 they collaborated with the Royal Shakespeare Company on a production of the Tempest to much critical acclaim. Their latest production is very much an adult orientated production of Macbeth which has had the twitter-sphere in raptures.
And then Artistic Director Peter Glanville talking about directing the production:
Marionette puppet theatre is common across much of Europe, particularly in the more eastern states, so it is great to see this tradition thriving and developing in the UK. LAT runs its own blog which is really interesting and you can read it here.
Yesterday, there was an entry about costuming Macbeth, written by the costume designer for the show, Keith Frederick, which I found particularly interesting.
For quite some time now, puppet theatre has focused on direct contact puppetry, where the puppeteer is in full view of the audience and their performance completely exposed. With this in mind, and from a personal point of view, the shows that work for me the most are those where the puppeteers are not just in blacks but in costume. Costumes that are well considered for the piece that have the ability, not only to add to a story and set a tone, but also have the to blend in and disappear, having a chameleon effect. Shows like War Horse…….. are excellent exponents of this effect.
So, when I was asked to design and make the costumes for the puppeteers in LAT”s newest adult production of Shakespeare’s Scottish play (yes, I am stupidly superstitious) I accepted the mantle of making their mantles!
To look similar but distinguishable from each other.
Contemporary and simple silhouette.
Fitted yet non-restrictive
Words = Bird & Witch
Colour = Black
For this production of the Scottish play the puppeteers are characters in their own right, the three witches, and the perfect starting point for the design process in making their costumes. Lyndie Wright, who has designed and made the puppets, referenced some shapes for me to work with and in a very short space of time talking together we had decided on a silhouette. With the brief and silhouette in mind I went away and sketched up several options that would fit in with the set and the puppets, using design elements from each.
Although working with a contemporary silhouette I have used style lines and treatments with an Elizabethan feel that harken back to the period. Using hem, sleeve, collar and seam detail variations I have tried to make each costume look different yet gel as a collective. As the puppeteers are all dressed in same silhouette and colour I hope the differences are distinguishable enough to stand out yet still subtle enough to disappear. Once the designs and fabrics were chosen and approved the next step was to translate them into patterns.
I have drafted three blocks (basic patterns) one for each puppeteer, each a different size, and made jersey and calico toiles (mock ups) in the chosen designs. The next stage in the process is to get the fit right and apply the style lines. This is the most crucial part of the process, the most time-consuming, and can mean several toiles (mock ups) to get it right. Once this is done the patterns can be cut in the fabrics chosen and made up. After a final fitting linings, hems and final details can be finished to complete the garment. From start to finish making the garments should take me about two weeks… however!
Last night was press night and I very much look forward to reading the reviews.