M magazine recently did a feature on the delectable Kerry Ellis and Katherine Kingsley, the queens of musical theatre. The two were shot frolicking around a pimped out MCM routemaster bus which has been working its way around London, publicising MCM’s new campaign. Kat was spotted in our Pomelion dress from the A/W12 collection which perfectly complemented the extravagance of the shoot and the MCM bus.
Kerry Ellis and Kat Kingsley showing how bus travel should be done in M Magazine
These sultry sirens of song made me think about how fashion is used in the theatre and how infrequently it receives praise, especially when it plays such a pivotal role in the production. For me personally, the costumes were always my favourite part of theatre, but I suspect that is true of many people in fashion, as they are really able to appreciate the beautiful craftsmanship and skill that goes into every tutu and every headdress.
Costume played a huge role in Greek theatre as the majority of the audience would be seated too far away from the stage to see the details of the actors, so they wore highly expressive masks and colourful robes to convey their character. The clothing of a character would give the audience an immediate idea of the gender, class and age of the character, for example, actors would wear long white sleeves to convey their role as a woman, as women were traditionally thought to be fair-skinned. The mask was the most important aspect of an actor’s costume as it not only expressed the character’s emotions, but also enabled an actor to portray a variety of different characters throughout the course of a play. In both early Greek and Asian theatre, only men were allowed to be actors, so the use of costume was employed to create the illusion of a female presence on the stage. Greek actors would wear “prosterneda” on their chests which created the illusion of breasts, so as to imply a female character.
Examples of masks worn by Ancient Greek actors
As theatre developed, the elaborate masks were no longer needed as the audience were able to see more of the actors. However, the costumes of the female and male characters still were vastly different and women were rarely seen out of a skirt of dress. Costumes in theatre started becoming more elaborate and detailed during the reign of queen Victoria, during which the theatre flourished. The materials and skills used became more expensive to create a sense of luxury to reflect the nature of the characters and also indicate the apparent luxury of being able to attend the theatre.
A Victorian princess costume for Moliere
Nowadays, as men and women are no longer restricted by what roles they can play in theatre, costume acts as an accessory to the story of the production. While a character’s clothing still reveals their social status, gender and age, the role of costume in theatre is more fluid. And although the audience may not need costumes and masks to understand the nature of a character, they still contribute so much to the story of a play/musical/opera/ballet.
So the next time you’re at the theatre watching Kat Kingsley or Kerry Ellis bringing the house down, or Lauren Cuthbertson set the stage on fire, consider the time, effort and thought process that went into their costume and how much it adds to their performance.
M Magazine: http://m-isfor.co.uk/
Kat Kingsley: http://www.katherine-kingsley.com/index.html#SlideFrame_1