Talking ‘Costume’ With Naomi Gibbs26 Jul 2017, Posted by Latest1 in
Naomi Gibbs, costume designer for The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, talks about the design process and the choices she’s made for the production.
The first and foremost reference for a costume designer is always the script, so I begin my process reading it first for pleasure as though I were ‘audience’, after which I revisit it many times, layering on notes that occur to me as I go.
The period that this piece spans was rich in changes through fashion particularly for women, while the male silhouette made subtler advances in cut and style. Between the 1880s where the tale begins, to the 1890s where it reaches its climactic end, we see a complete change in the shapes of skirts and the shoulder line of female costume. Advances in technology and an increasing of thoughts turning slowly to more practical dress for ladies did away with the popular cage bustle and tight little shoulders of the 1880s gowns and gave way to gently bell-shaped skirts and wider padded shoulders (which were designed to give a look of ease, without the actual feeling of comfort, for corsets were still worn by the majority of women). Corsets also changed shape, from an hourglass silhouette with a rounded tummy to a flat fronted ‘s-bend’ which thrust the sway of hip and bottom further back, and the bosom forward.
Self-respecting gentleman of the time would always be outfitted properly, with a full complement of dress including a starched collar shirt, tie or cravat, formal trousers, waistcoat and jacket and for outings, always a hat in addition you this at the very least. Colours were generally more sober for gentlemen due to desire of practicality, economy and general good taste and longevity of wear. They had the benefit of slightly more comfort than women, but still suffered through the wearing of stiff collars and many layers, for the appearance of style and propriety.
Research is, next to the script, the most invaluable resource for inspiration when designing for a show. I looked at other productions, set spanning the relevant eras, historical references from books and actual Victorian garments. To fire my imagination, I also read the original book The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde that Nick Lane has adapted this piece from, by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Primarily, my job is to help the actors tell the story. Their clothes have to be completely believable. So believable in fact, that you had better not be thinking of them while you are watching the performance, just simply engrossed in the story. To this end, I make sure I ask myself key questions about the characters such as; how wealthy are they? What is their standing in society? How much does this person care about their appearance? What is their profession or occupation? What are their personal tastes like? The clothes have to suit each criteria. Then, I must meet additional criteria such as ‘Can this actor move freely in their costume?’, ‘Is it fit for purpose’? For each question I can take my cues from the script.
For Jekyll and Hyde, I felt that a deep, dark rich palette of colour built up with varying texture would best suit the mood of the show. Therefore I chose mostly dark colours which absorb the light, and at some points during the play use light-catching fabrics to draw focus on Eleanor’s poignant scenes.
All of my costume choices carry subliminal messages about the characters, inspired directly from clues Nick has laid within the script. For example, I first dress Eleanor in fabrics befitting of a stage performer of the time, who were generally considered to have a more ‘obvious’ style of attire, her changes in costume carry her through to being the respectable 10-years -married wife of a Doctor on a lower middle class income. At one point her husband refers to her as a ‘ghost of a wife’ so her colour is purple, a Victorian colour of half-mourning for the loss of her intimacy with Jekyll. Purple also suits her inquisitive, quick mind and her former situation as a performer. It is a colour often associated with artistic people.
Jekyll wears black throughout with a small flash of colour, becaus he is a man with something to hide. Black is the colour of concealment and fear. We are naturally wary of it as well as we trust it. The cut of his suit is designed to be more appealing to modern eyes, with a Victorian look but the cut of a modern rock star, slightly narrower than traditional trousers and a more fitted waistline. The love story between he and Eleanor needed to have a desperate, unhinged, passionate appeal to it and the lovers should be presented in the spirit of this. Other designers have given Jekyll a separate costume or make-up look to become Hyde, but to me, the actor’s abilities were enough for the audience to be in no doubt of whom they were observing behind the eyes, so Hyde is merely hinted at with subtle changes in the state of the same costume.
Lanyon is a true, dependably moral fellow and a medical man, so I associate blue hues with his character. He is crisp and logical. Blue to me demonstrates honesty and clarity. He presents a smart figure. He also has a resigned sadness towards the end, which blue suits.
Utterson being our lawyer, I chose a steady and dependable brown for him. Though black is traditionally preferred for lawyers, I wanted to distinguish Jekyll in his darker shade, whilst highlighting Utterson’s constant and, like Lanyon, cautious, moral nature. He is also a man of advancing years, so brown made more sense for his character and it was almost as popular as black during Victorian times. The cut of his clothes are looser in true Victorian cut as he is not presented as a romantic figure.
Annie of course is signalling her trade in a garish red, the only colour that will really ‘pop’ and deliberately jar with the rest of the palette. This echoes the red of ‘sin’ demonstrated in the Devil motif running throughout. It is also the colour of passion and violence so is somewhat hinting of situations to befall her person in later scenes. Her costume is also heavily distressed (worn in) to communicate to the audience that she is an individual of poor means and situation.