As Leeds Playhouse's five-star production of musical Oliver! nears its final performances on January 27, the theatre's costume department has revealed some of the secrets of the intricate attire that has been wowing audiences and critics alike.
Fifty-eight people need costumes in the show. With understudies, and multiples for characters played by more than one actor, it adds up to around 160 costumes needing constant attention.
Nineteen people have worked on costumes, including a tailor, milliner, break-down artist, freelance cutters and the Playhouse team of cutters and costume assistants. The original fabric for Fagin’s long blue coat and the costumes created for the young company worn in the workhouse – including the three Olivers – was 100m of a cream linen bought from local company B&M Fabrics (based close to the theatre
at Kirkgate Market) and dyed by the team. This fabric was chosen because it was a heavy linen that could be broken down to offer a "Victorian" look. The most complex costume is Fagin’s, which features a heavy top-coat, two waistcoats, a shirt, trousers and accessories such as glasses, a neck tie and hat, but the heaviest costume, Mr Bumble’s grey linen coat, has 12m of outer fabric and another 12m of lining – but then actor Minal Patel is 6ft 5in and needs a lot of coat!
A lot of work also went into Nancy's bodice: when the costume team first discovered the fabric, it was a bag in a shop in London's Camden that had started life as a sari before being transformed into a hand-stitched blanket, and later into a bag. The fabric was perfect for Nancy’s corset because, being both beautiful and already worn-in and showing signs of wear and character.
The costume department at the Playhouse has been a constant hive of activity. Since opening night it's seen a daily cycle of washing, mending, continual breaking down (because the carefully-introduced grime washes out!), letting-out waistcoats and even buying new shoes for the growing children in the young company. On average the department has run around six wash cycles a day.
Getting ready for each performance includes five hours of maintenance, cleaning and mending; four hours of resetting by the dressers (so the actors know exactly where every piece of costume is) and three hours of wig preparation – a total of 12 hours to get everything ready, every day! Set and costume designer Colin Richmond said: “The world Dickens describes is so visceral, real and timeless, you feel things really haven’t changed. I hope we have achieved something of that world; something that feels familiar, but also poetic." Info and tickets here