Royal Shakespeare Company’s redeveloped costume workshop to open to public

The team relocated for two years while the restoration and construction took place.

The new Royal Shakespeare Company costume workshop
The new Royal Shakespeare Company costume workshop

The newly redeveloped costume workshop of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) is to open to the public for the first time.

The restored Grade II listed buildings in Stratford-upon-Avon now sit alongside newly created spaces capable of housing the 30-strong team – the largest in-house costume-making department of any British theatre.

The workshop lies opposite the Royal Shakespeare and Swan Theatres on the site of the 1887 Memorial Theatre Scene Dock, which is now the new entrance to the building.

Royal Shakespeare Company costume workshop
Men’s costumiers at the restored and redeveloped Royal Shakespeare Company costume workshop (Jacob King/PA)

It has been redesigned to provide more space and daylight, and will be able to offer training and apprenticeships to the local West Midlands community.

£8.7 million was raised through Arts Council England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Stich In Time campaign, which secured more than 30,000 donations.

Members of the public will be allowed in for the first time to see the team’s specialist skills, which include millinery, jewellery, dyeing, costume painting, costume props and footwear.

Royal Shakespeare Company costume workshop
Stock keeper and buyer Veronika Weidenhiller (Jacob King/PA)

Guided tours are expected to start in 2022.

The costume workshop team had to relocate for two years while the restoration and redevelopment took place.

This involved packing up and moving 36 mannequins, 3,500 pairs of shoes, more than 1,710 reels of thread, 126 paintbrushes, 45 sewing machines and more.

Royal Shakespeare Company costume workshop
Head of costume props, armoury and footwear Alan Smith works on pieces to be used for The Comedy Of Errors (Jacob King/PA)

RSC artistic director Gregory Doran said: “Thank you to all who have supported the restoration and redevelopment of our costume workshop.

“The team create amazing costumes every year but were doing so in conditions that were not fit for purpose.

“Costumes are integral to an actor’s performance and to them becoming the character they are to play.

Royal Shakespeare Company costume workshop
Staff notes at the workshop (Jacob King/PA)

“As Judi Dench said ‘No matter how much rehearsal time you have, you cannot get fully into the part until you are in costume.’

“We make, repair and recycle hundreds of costume pieces each year, which are seen by audiences around the world.

“Costumes have been made on this site continuously since at least the 1940s, and the workshop now has the costume-making facilities to secure the legacy of our costume-making skills and the heritage buildings that house them.”

Royal Shakespeare Company costume workshop
Veronika Weidenhiller at work in the new facility (Jacob King/PA)

RSC associate artist Dame Harriet Walter said: “Much as I loved visiting the rabbit warren where costumes and armour and everything else was made in the old days, I realise it was pretty much a Dickensian sweatshop and it was more fun to visit rarely than to work in permanently.

“The RSC costume laboratory has produced all kinds of magic and I can remember nearly every RSC costume I have worn on stage and many that I viewed from the auditorium.

“It is testament to the skill contained here that these costumes have endured and not fallen apart after all the wear and tear we have given them.

“Playing Cleopatra, I needed to be free to move around, to feel skittish and sexy and then transform into a grieving shadow and emerge from that grief with a final triumphant throned image. The costumes did most of that work for me.”

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