RSC – The Seven Acts of Mercy and The Rover

As expected I thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Stratford-upon-avon to watch The Seven Acts of Mercy and The Rover in The Swan theatre. I like the wooden and brick interiors of The Swan that makes it interesting and I’m sure also challenging to design for. It must be a blessing to not have a gaudy facade or safety curtain to worry about as in other theatres such as Theatre Royal in Nottingham or The Lyceum in Sheffield.

I was pleasantly surprised by the first production, The Seven Acts of Mercy, as I didn’t know how they’d create a piece about the painter Caravaggio. Cleverly the production was split between Caravaggio’s workspace in Naples 1606 and the home of a liverpudlian boy and his grandad who tries to educate him about art leading the boy to follow out the seven acts of mercy. I liked the content of this play because it looked at current social and political problems in the UK such as poverty and housing shortage. The design involved a large canvas and a stepladder that created caravaggio’s workspace and as he painted images of his work were projected around the balcony area on gauze. I was sat in gallery two which will always be the short straw in my eyes as no matter how a designer tries, sitting at that level doesn’t provide a clear view to the stage and so the paintings projected were faint meaning the content of the play was less engaging during these scenes. I did however like the shabby, minimal living room that made up the Liverpool set.

I preferred watching The Rover in the evening, probably because I had a front row seat this time! The play follows the antics of three cavaliers and three women looking for love amongst the setting of a South American carnival. I really liked the costume design as in true RSC style they had merged the traditional 17th Century design with contemporary style. I particularly like the red boots, jeans and corset that the character Hellena, played by Faye Castelow, wore as I thought the modernisation supported her bold characteristics and was empowering. I also liked the use of masks which worked well for the wild, dancing carnival scenes and I especially liked the animalistic masks.

The iron-like balcony and stairs designed by Lez Brotherston allowed the performers alternative exits/entrances than the wings and has helped me to consider the space in the Swan for my own design project this term for The Beggar’s Opera.

Corsetry

To support our 18th Century Speculative Design project we undertook a week long project in the costume department making an 18th Century corset. I really enjoyed this project as costume was the area of theatre that I was first interested in and led me to pursue Theatre Design so it was great to learn something new and get back on the sewing machines!

We had to measure our model and then draft these measurements using a basic pattern block on paper. The back and front panel patterns were then transferred onto another piece of paper so that we could clearly see the bespoke pattern and drawn in the boning channels. This pattern was then transferred onto calico (which would become the lining to our garment) and tacked then sewed onto the chosen fabric. We were given a selection of fabric colours, all traditional hues available during the 1700s. I chose a navy blue. I then sewed the front two panels to the back two panels and tacked a temporary channel of eyelets so that I could do a fitting on my model.

Once I had checked and adjusted the fit of my corset on the model I was able to sew in all of the boning channels and attach an extra section to the top lining of the corset, giving the bust area structure as well (as displayed above in the second photograph). We used synthetic boning, cutting it to the right size as I put in each channel. I found this challenging as some of the channels I had sewn were a bit  tight. I enjoyed creating the eyelet holes using a hammer and leather although it was difficult! This is when my corset started to really take a form and all that was left to do was the arm straps and binding. The arm straps were fitted on the model to make for the best fit possible.

Unfortunately I didn’t finish the corset in the week we had and therefore the binding is still a work in progress that I aim to have finished at the end of my 18th Century project this term. This week allowed me to see how I would make 18th Century clothing and consider the structures and shapes used at this time.

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