Follies | Vicki Mortimer On Costume

(♪ BELLS CHIME A MELODY)Follies is a really special project
for a designer, and I think it’s to do with the richness
of what is asked for — the layers and connections
that need to be made visually. There’s this lovely design task which is combining the real tactile
and concrete reality of this nostalgic environment
of the theatre on the verge of demolition, alongside the delicacy of the memories and of the aspirations of the Follies
at the time. What we were looking for
was this incredible glamour and elegance coming out of the dust and the shadows
of the demolished theatre. The fact that it’s a pieceabout theatre lends itself very much to being staged
in a proscenium arch theatre, like the Follies themselves
would have been. However, we’re doing it in the Olivier,
which is much more of an arena space. So that immediately suggested
that we needed to be looking at a more abstracted architectural
presence for the production. Each one of these costume pieces are
developed by the makers as a real one-off. They need to be balanced.
They need to be light. You need to be able to look after them
from show to show. Also, the technical aspects
of costume for dance. We worked with a lot of prototyping. So, trying out the scale
of some of these ingredients, and trying out how to translate
from drawings through to the real thing
is quite a big act of interpretation on the part of the maker
in conversation with the designer. There are so many hours
that go into each one. They’re incredibly hand-made, and the amount of craft
is absolutely extraordinary. The character of Solange, her ‘era’
at the Follies was the early ’20s. So we thought that she might be the one that had the most connection
to the Folies Bergère in Paris. We also then knew that she was likely
to be the showgirl who starts the show, so she’s the first figure that you see. We wanted her to have this very evocative,
very immediate sense of the beauty and elegance
and aesthetic of the Follies — so the ostrich feathers
and the sequins and so on. We have one of the shepherds
from the Loveland sequence. These were hugely good fun to design. The way that it’s described in the script is very much like a sort of French
18th-century Sun King, so it was great fun working out
whatour version of that was going to be. It was partly really exaggerating
some of the shapes. So the back of this jacket
has got this sort of tutu underpinning that gives it real bounce
and exaggeration, but keeps it really light. Likewise, with the hats being made
from a fine straw rather than from a felt just gives them
this kind of playful lightness. This is for when Ben participates
in the Loveland Follies. His is a very urbane
top-hat-and-tails number. So this costume was designed
to be exactly that archetype of a sort of Maurice Chevalier elegance —
treading very lightly, not even quite dancing, but just being
elegant and very under control. Of course, what happens is that he loses
control and the number falls apart. The character of young Hattie, who
obviously has a much more mid-’20s shape. So she’s got this sort of flapper-like
dress with a feather train. We wanted her character
to have the boldness and audacity of those flapper women
who were breaking a lot of rules with hem length
and with not wearing corsets and so on. It felt really appropriate
that she should sit in that era, so we gave her an absolutely classic
flapper bob and headband with a feather. In a way, they were almost like
a present to those girls, in that they might have that feeling
of being a member of the Follies and the excitement of having a new costume
for a new number. And feeling the glamour — the by-line forZiegfeld Follies
was ‘glorifying the American girl’.
So we wanted those costumes
to do exactly that — to glorify the girl
that was wearing the costume.


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