Lianne’s costume creations have been wowing Radley Theatre audiences since she arrived in 2006. We caught up with Lianne in the fabulous wardrobe department, hidden away above the Theatre, and started by asking her how she came to apply for the Costume Designer job.
I had just finished working in the TV industry and I broke my knee on set and had to take a year out to recover. My boyfriend at the time, now my husband, was living in Oxford and suggested I go for the job at Radley to get me out of the house! I joined just after the New Theatre had opened in 2005, initially only 10 hours a week. Before I knew it, 10 hours had turned into 20 and so on, and it’s grown from there!
Tell us a bit about what goes into designing and making the wonderful costumes for Radley’s productions.
It all begins with the script. Initially I meet with the Director to see what their vision is and what the concept of the show will be. Then I’ll take their ideas and mix them with ideas that I have, and then do a series of designs. Once the designs have been approved, I hit the ground running! Sometimes I might have something in mind, say a jacket that I really want to use and I try to find a way to incorporate it, sometimes I find the perfect item in a charity shop; if not I make it from scratch.
For A Few Good Men, which is the next 6.1 play, the costumes will be US military uniforms, so we will hire a lot of the costumes in. It’s funny because it was the first show that I ever did here, but this production is going to be very different.
As well as sourcing, making and cleaning all the costumes, I also do make-up, wigs and props for each show we do.
I have an assistant now, Kathryn Croxson, who started in September. Apart from being a huge help with the practical work, it’s great to work together creatively, having spent 15 years largely on my own! We’ve recently reorganised the wardrobe department and had a good sort through some older costumes, making space for the year ahead.
I often get asked ‘what do you do when there’s no show on?’ Besides striking the set, laundry, and returning costumes and props after a production has ended, we are already working on the next one! We do three big plays a year, the College Play, the 6:1 Play and Remove Play along with practical exams, LAMDA exams, the Shell Show, Milligan Cup (musical theatre competition), Peter Cook Cup (monologue competition) and much more, so we are always busy!
Can you pick a highlight, a production you were really proud of?
I think probably Sweeney Todd in 2011. I designed everything from scratch and the overall vision for the show was initially mine. I did some illustrations for a book, years ago – a creepy and macabre Victorian circus – I just love all that kind of stuff and it was the perfect production to incorporate that style into. It was really dark and eerie and sinister, sort of horror film meets steampunk.
2010’s L’Hotel de Paris – a collection of Noël Coward plays – is another favourite. Visually it was really eye-catching, the whole set was white but the costumes were all vivid colours. Part of my degree was focused on costume history so it was fun to do all the research into 1920s costumes.
Which aspects of your job do you particularly enjoy?
I enjoy seeing designs I had in my head come to life on stage! I also enjoy working with the actors, welcoming their input and explaining the concept behind their costume. It’s important to me to ensure all cast members are happy with what they are wearing because fundamentally I’m their advocate. I need them to feel confident to perform on stage in front of hundreds of people.
What makes Radley a special place to work?
The team! We are a relatively small department but we all get on really well and have different areas of expertise to bring to the table. Although term time can be very intense, I am lucky to be able to enjoy the holidays, which I value even more now since having my son a year ago.
It’s always nice to know many staff members still come to see the shows. Hearing boys and staff compliment a show, especially when you’re running on empty, makes all the hours of washing, ironing and pre-setting for the next performance worth it!
What has changed in your time here?
The shows have got bigger, the casts have got bigger and the boys have got more talented over the years, and as a team, we don’t like to settle! We feel we can always do better.