Costumes are an essential part of any stage production. Unless you’re planning to put on Paradise Lost or a nudist version of a popular play, you pretty much have to get your actors some clothes.
When designing costumes, there are four main things to consider. First, the costumes need to fall in with the general look and feel of the play. Nothing is worse than an outfit that sticks out like a sore thumb. Second, a costume must help the actor create the character. In many ways our clothes define who we are and on stage they are meant to give the audience visual cues as to what to expect. Third, when creating costumes, comfort has to be taken into account. Actors need to be comfortable to move about, breathe and speak freely. And last, but not least, there is the budget to consider.
Chemical Imbalance: A Jekyll and Hyde Play is set in a fictional pseudo-Victorian London. That was fortunate since this setting allowed us to take a lot of liberties with costumes.
Men’s fashion has been pretty consistent throughout the 19th-early 20th century, and so creating costumes for our two male actors was easy. Dr. Jekyll, our antihero, is a brilliant scientist and a darling of society. He is charming and debonair in elegant subdued, dark colors with a fanciful cravat. His alter ego, Hyde, retains the gentlemanlike clothes, but undergoes a physical transformation. The top hat and a heavy black coat make him look almost grotesque. The flap of the coat reminds us of a cape, turning a respectable doctor into a gothic antihero. Jekyll’s cousin Xavier plays the dual part of sidekick and comic relief. He looks quite respectable, but his clothes are a bit mismatched and drab and work as a nice contrast to his dashing cousin.
For the sake of budget and general comfort we decide to avoid crinolines, tight lacing and hobble skirts. Lady Throckmortonshire and Euphronia Jekyll wear gowns inspired by the Belle Époque which shows that these ladies are older and opens doors for visual comedy. Their costumes simply overflow with ruffles, lace, pearls, bows, rosettes and feathers. A special point of pride are the two hats designed by Lotta Heikkinen for Lady Throckmortonshire and Euphronia’s Salome costume in Act II.
The young ladies have an air of Gibson Girls about them. Their costumes are comfortable, youthful and pretty, though a bit misleading. Rosamunda Dewthistle, for instance, appears so modest and proper in her blue and grey gown. But is she? No one illustrates my point about costumes helping build the character like Penelope and Calliope Throckmortonshire’s cute little white dress. It underlines the innocence of one sister, and creates a nice contrast to the nastiness of the other.
When costuming for a small production it’s important to try and balance artistic values with the budget and time constraints. This is where thrifting comes in. A lot of the costumes and accessories can be found in people’s own wardrobes or borrowed from more eccentric friends. Fida, UFF and other thrift and secondhand shops can provide you with raw materials and basic outfits that can be altered to create a costume that even Sarah Bernhardt would be proud to wear.
Nastia Diatlova, stage name Anastasia, was taken to the theater as a little girl by her grandmother. The impression on her little innocent mind was so strong that she became a lifelong thespian. She likes directing, costuming and heavy-handed prose.
Photographs by Stuart D. McQuade
Thespians Anonymous proudly present Chemical Imbalance: A Jekyll and Hyde Play on 15, 16, 17 and 18 May 2012 in Helsinki. For more information see Thespians Anonymous website or Chemical Imbalance Facebook event.