I was very excited when Justin Clow of Spectral Theatre contacted me and asked me to design their upcoming production of Hamlet. It is, of course, an incredibly challenging work, both for its own sake, and for the sake of its fame. You are not only challenged by the work, but by all the other productions that have gone before. It was exciting and a little bit scary for all of us involved.
Justin was interested in creating a sort of "haunted ruins of Elsinore" kind of concept with the art direction, wherein the audience's interpretation of the ghostly cast would give it a modern look. We discussed it and came up with the idea of mixing the traditional Elizabethan look with a more modern goth kind of style.
A few comments about the design plates; first of all, I rarely colour my plates, as I get a great deal of inspiration from the fabrics that I find when I'm shopping for a show. For example, I had originally thought of a deeper burgundy for Gertrude, but found the beautiful rich red jacquard more suitable when I found it. Also, some of the sketches changed after discussions with the actors and directors, and some sketches weren't even drawn until after those conversations had happened, and I got a good sense of what they wanted the characters to be.
Of course, we must start with the titular character, the moody prince himself. I wanted him to come across as royal, but grieving, and, of course, sexy as hell. Elias Toufexis' intense blue eyes helped a great deal in that last objective.
Next we have Hamlet's nemesis, his uncle Claudius. The actor, Jason Emanuel, is, in fact, several years younger than Elias, which made costuming him a challenge. I went with a gothy look with a sort of Darth Vader undertone. The coat is actually made up of panels of hook and eye tape, which were strategically opened to reveal the scarlet lining.
Megan Morrison, who played Gertrude, was another actor who was a great deal younger than her character, although, like Jason, she easily rose to the challenge. I went for an elegant gown in "whore red" to display her royalness as well as her sins.
The Ghost of Hamlet's father was one of three roles played by the versatile Gavin Landsiedel. As a ghost among ghosts, I wanted to play up his spectral qualities, and so came across the idea of making a full costume entirely out of transparent materials; organza, chiffon, etc. My husband, Jason Baker, even made for us a breastplate and crown out of clear acrylic, which I then sponge painted with glow paint. Under black light, the effect was quite striking.
Ophelia was stirringly portrayed by Bonny Giroux, who did her own wig work, quite effectively. It was her idea to wear only the chemise for her mad scenes. As you can see from my design, I had originally envisioned Ophelia as a brunette, but Bonny's sleek wig and then wild, dandelion-like hair portrayed the change in her character's sanity much better.
Paul Toolin was very funny as the loquacious Polonius, and the easiest to costume, as I had only to loan the company my spanish surcoat and ruff. I made him a hat to match and he was done. He did his ruffled sleeves great justice.
Laertes was a costume I'd hoped to do more with. I wanted to obtain a coat I'd made for Metro theatre a year or two back, but never managed to get in touch with their wardrobe mistress. But, I decided Des Hussey was handsome enough in just his waistcoat, and it made a nice visual connection between the three family members to all have white sleeves. Cop out? Well... maybe.
Thomas Jones played the ever-faithful Horatio, and I wanted to give him a look of a college student, but more down to earth than the flashy Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He wears a doublet-like leather jacket over his brocade doublet and more subdued version of Hamlet's cloak.
I swear, the cast and crew were calling these two "Tweedle Dum" and "Tweedle Dee" long before they saw the costumes! Glenn Surzyshyn and Kurtis Maquire were very funny as the morally unstable duo, and wore their gaudy costumes with aplomb.
Melanie Yeats was very funny as the easily-befuddled Lord Osric, and I was very pleased with the effective combination of actor and costume.
I found Marc-Anthony Massiah's looks very inspiring and wanted to do his rich colouring and great stature justice. He may look a little like a member of the Queen of Hearts' card retinue, but a very sexy one!
Steven Stiller played the officer, Marcellus. I managed to obtain an overcoat of a similar style and cut to Bernardo's, which gave them some nice symmetry together, but Marcellus is obviously of a more serious mein than his cohort. His doublet has a military uniform look to it which turned out well.
Gavin Landsiedel also played the ebullient Player King, leader of the troupe of players that helps Hamlet trick Claudius into giving himself away. Each of the players had a small change to their costume from their initial entrance to the play they perform before the rest.
Alexis Quednau played the Player Queen. I wanted to make an obvious visual correlation between the players and the real characters they are inadvertantly portraying. Therefore, the Player King's costume is a crude version of the Ghost's, and the Player Queen's reminds us of Gertrude's gown.
I had a little trouble with the costume for Ashley Rose, who played the Player Usurper, the character that reminds Claudius so unfortunately of his own actions. I wanted there, again, to be a clear visual connection between her costume and that of Jason, but finances were tight, as was time. Ashley wanted a cloak she could swoop, but I wanted to make her a coat similar to Jason's. Then I realized I had obtained an extra cloak, which I had decided not to use, as it was too similar to Claudius'. Everyone got what they want, with no extra work for me!
Melanie Yeats was another of the players, and the whole group of them sang period songs and recited monologues during intermission.
The gravediggers, portrayed by Gavin and Melanie, wore the sorts of clothing manual labourers have worn since time immemorial. The details may change, but the impression stays the same.
The maid, played by Ashley Rose, was a bit of a flight of fancy for me. I wanted to incorporate the goth imagery which has embraced the "french maid" themes, with some Elizabethan propriety. The result was a sheer, cartridge-pleated skirt over the fishnets. This one was pretty popular with the men in the audience.
Gertrude's waiting gentlewoman, played by Alexis Quednau, doesn't have a design sketch, as I was only informed of her existence the night before the dress rehearsal. They thought they'd thrown me for a loop, but I showed them!
I went with a sort of 19th Century look for the priest, also played by Alexis. The all-encompassing robes neatly covered her other costumes underneath, which made her quick changes easier.
Marc-Anthony Massiah and Steven Stiller played the two sailors who return ahead of Hamlet to warn us of his homecoming. For them I assembled several cast off pieces from several different sources, to create the look of pirates, without going too far in that direction.
Some candid shots, hanging around the accurately-named Green Room.
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