The National Theatre’s Costume department sources, constructs, alters, repairs, organises and maintains costumes for over 20 new productions on the South Bank each year. Meanwhile, the Costume Hire department circulates costumes from its stock of 70,000 to films, photoshoots and other theatre productions. This team of 46 can produce everything from muddy uniforms to giant caterpillars; dress an actor in a corset in under 60 seconds; and strive to ensure things look as good on the final performance as they did on the first. This new exhibition invites you into their world.
Featuring costumes from productions including Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, War Horse, Follies and Antony and Cleopatra the exhibition visits each stage of the production process; from design to construction, sourcing and alterations, to dressing, repairs and laundering.
Costume at the National Theatre has been curated by Aoife Monks and is designed by Tom Paris. Both have worked closely with the NT Costume department and in consultation with designers Vicki Mortimer (Follies) and Katrina Lindsay (Small Island).
Aoife Monks said: ‘Costume is one of the first things we see on stage, telling us immediately about the world of the show we are about to watch. Despite this we often overlook it, thinking more about the character wearing their fictional clothes than the actor in their costume. However, even the most ordinary costumes take extraordinary amounts of work. Drawing on interviews with NT staff, this exhibition reveals the skill, thought and time that costume requires. You will never overlook it in the same way again.’
Tom Paris said: ‘I'm thrilled to be part of a project that celebrates the incredible craft and unique skills found in the National Theatre’s Costume department. I hope the exhibition will shed light on the often unseen attention to detail and sheer dedication that goes into each and every costume that steps out onto the stage. This exhibition gives a rare opportunity to get up close and to touch some of the most exciting and interesting items from the NT's extensive collection.’
There will be a book, Costume at the National Theatre, which will be published to coincide with the exhibition.
The exhibition will also be accompanied by a series of related talks and events:
Costume at the National Theatre on Mon 11 November, 6–7pm, Cottesloe Room, £9/£6
Staff from the National Theatre’s Costume department talk about how they create costumes for productions at the NT.
Exhibition Insight Tour with Curator Aoife Monks on Sat 9 November, 12 noon–1pm, Wolfson Gallery, £5/£3
A short tour around the Costume at the National Theatre exhibition with curator Aoife Monks.
The Secret Lives of Costume: A Multisensory Walk at the NT on Sat 23 November, 12–1.15pm or 3–4.15pm £5/£3
This sensory walk backstage invites audiences to pay attention to the non-visual senses involved in theatre costume. Presented as part of Being Human Festival.