Exhibition in the Wolfson Gallery, National Theatre Upper Ground, London SE1 9PX
Box Office: 020 7452 3000
Fri 4 October 2019 – Sat 27 June 2020
Free during opening hours
Exhibition Insight Tour with Curator Aoife Monks Sat 9 Nov, 12pm
Costume at the National Theatre Mon 11 Nov, 6pm
The Secret Lives of Costume: A Multisensory Walk at the NT Sat 23 Nov, 12pm or 3pm
Please note the exhibition will be closed between 4.30-5.30pm on Thu 28 November.
A wonderland of costume at the National
In the Wolfson Gallery (no me neither – it’s outside the Olivier Circle so you can drop by before a show) the National Theatre’s determination to be more open has spawned a most eye-opening exhibition of the work of the costume department. Costumes from several recent shows like Follies, wonder.land, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom are available up close and touchable (you can actually swish a fox’s tail), shown with clear texts that don’t fail to tell you which stars wore them. The stunning clothes that Sophie Okonedo wore as Cleopatra jostle with mud caked uniforms from War Horse and it’s exciting to learn the secrets behind both.
But it is so much more than a chance to see lots of frocks; the whole creative process is explained clearly through the words of the wardrobe team themselves. Along with the research, early sketches and the detailed costume drawings, and even shopping for material the exhibition covers the thought processes of the designers and makers. We are even told the importance of having your own thimble to hand! But it does not stop at the first night – cleaning and conservation are covered too. There’s even a real time video of a 60 second quick change – corset and all.
All this takes place in an Aladdin’s cave of glorious, colourful, glittering, fascinating clothes, headdresses, gloves and shoes.
There is something else going on here beyond the pleasure of it; there is also a commitment to explaining and democratising the nation’s theatre. This is properly designed, thoughtful access which clearly benefits from the involvement of not just an Associate Artist but also a Board Member. There is also a message that emerges from everything you see and hear (whether from a big name star designer or the person who washes the bloodstains out of Cleopatra’s dress), that the team is crucial to making anything. This wonderful show is as much about why theatre matters and goes on being worth doing as it is about the glamour and glitz – but it is really good fun too.
Curator Dr Aoife Monks
Exhibition Designer Tom Paris
Consultants Vicki Mortimer and Katrina Lindsay
Costume Supervisor Cat Ladd
Production Manager Helen Donnelly
Video Content NT Content Production Studio
Sound and Video Adam Robson and Arthur Skinner
Lighting Huw Llewellyn
Construction and Scenic Félix Enterprises
Printed Scenery Service Graphics
Graphic Design Jamie Malcolm
Exhibitions Team Perri Blake lock and Judith Merritt