Theatre Textiles Act 2 Scene 1

Theatre Textiles Act 2 Scene 1

After our move to The Exchange,  as mentioned in my first post  there followed several years’ worth of productions in which I was not called upon for costume assistance although I regularly helped my artist friend who designed and painted the Panto scenery, and assisted with makeup.  I once got the chance to make a giant beanstalk for our “Boy and Some Beans” Panto, after which I quite often was given the “head gardener” position whenever the scenery needed “vegetation” in addition to the painted sort.

In the mean time, and for several years running,  SNADS were asked to put on some form of Haunting for the Halloween weekend  at the local ruined mediaeval Wardour Castle.

Wardour Castle

Each year we wrote a short play, the various scenes of which took place in different spaces within and around the castle and it’s stone grotto, and 2 or 3 performances would take place each night over the nearest weekend to Halloween.  This was great fun, even if decidedly cold and/or damp on occasion, and we actually got paid for doing it!  It enabled me to expand my special effects makeup, which I had learned about at a theatrical summer school.  It was there that I learned of the amazing things you can do with gelatine and porridge oats!

I always liked to be a witch or a ’orrible ’ag as this gave me greater scope for doing ’orrible makeup and practicing my witch’s cackle!

Zombie face made up with gelatine and oatsPorridge anyone?

image of Halloween prop skull and skeleton hands beside zombie actorMe and a Friend (that’s me on the right)

I was tasked with making a prop for our 2010 Panto Arabian Nights.  The Sultan had a tame rat, which I was asked to produce as a hand puppet so that it could open and shut it’s mouth and wave it’s paws in a menacing way, and it was to have eyes that would light up red.  This of course I made in felt (wet and needle) and my husband provided the tiny red lights for the eyes from his model railway stock.  To make it more believable I needled a false hand onto the back of the rat and the section of arm extending from that hand covered the actor’s own arm as it disappeared inside his sleeve.  From the auditorium it was not really clear that the hand holding the rat was not the actor’s own, except that it was not the quite same colour as his real hand – which should have been made up but wasn’t.

Image of actor as Sultan with rat puppet and image of sultan, rat, captive dancing girl and Sultan’s chief wifeThe Sultan’s pet rat

For the same Panto I was asked to make up the Genie.  Here he is with a camel.  (I didn’t have anything to do with either costume though.)

image of pantomime camel head and genie in turban wiping camel spit out of his right eyeCamel and Genie

I was actually the front legs of this camel in our 2017 panto Ali Baba – great fun but tiring because my head was in his front hump and my arms were up his neck, holding up the head with one hand and using the other to poke out his tongue!  This is the least tiring two person panto animal we have, at least for the back legs actor, because s/he is able to stand up with his/her head inside the second hump (it’s a dromedary).

In June 2013 the Society obtained permission to perform Terry Pratchett’s Monstrous Regiment.  This is the one which is (loosely) based on the story of “Sweet Polly Oliver”, as she is called in the old folk song. She joined the British Army, dressed as a man, to try to find her brother, who she had looked after as a boy.  (The “Monstrous Regiment” of the title comes from a pamphlet written by John Knox in the 16th Century – a “gentleman” who I think would have felt quite at home in today’s Afghanistan in regard to his attitude to women.)  In addition to the Company’s enlisted “men” – all women pretending to be men –  the Company boasted a (female) vampire and a mountain troll (also female, but it is difficult to tell the gender in the case of trolls).

I was cast as the troll – Carborundum by name.  Mountain trolls are actually living rocks and I thought that I could do something with the costume for that.  I had, a few years earlier, needle felted some bas relief gargoyles/water spouts using mixed bats of Jacob fleece, which actually looked like stone – as long as you didn’t get close enough to see that it was hairy, I should have borrowed my husband’s razor!

Corner Gargoyle/Water Spout – The original of this water spout is attached to the corner of a church tower in Hinton St Mary, the village just up the road from where I live.

So I thought I could use felt, but what to attach it to so that it looked like rock and not clothing?  Well, a couple of years previously my Guild (Weavers Spinners & Dyers) held a special exhibition as part of the Dorset Arts and Crafts Association annual show, which was entitled Dorset Coast and Country – or something like that.  We had a whole room to ourselves and we filled it with exhibits depicting the county.  The Dorset coast is actually part of the Jurassic Coast – a World Heritage Site – and runs from Orcombe Point in Exmouth, Devon, extending east for 95 miles to Old Harry Rock, near Swanage in Dorset.  Therefore we had to include some exhibits around this.  I made a giant ammonite in needle felt and it was formed on a base of foam pipe insulation.

needle felted sculpture of ammonite leaning against some rocksAmmonite

So I knew that if I could find some grey foam I could make the troll’s costume out of that with felted embellishments.  Now I wonder where I got the foam from – silly question, as a needle felter I had been collecting foam in various sizes and thicknesses for ages.  Anyway, I put together a rocky costume, complete with some “moss” and embroidered lichen. I made up my face to be more flat planes than chubby me and this is the result.

actor made up and costumed to look made of stone – head & shoulders onlyCarborundum

Front row: Troll, female vampire trooper, Back row, officer and sergeant “baddies”


Terry Pratchett himself actually came to our Saturday night performance and obviously enjoyed it – he gave us a standing ovation.

Terry Pratchett talking to Troll with more cast behindCarborundum chatting to Terry Pratchett

I got to wear the costume at the Haunting of Wardour Castle that year and actually managed to frighten some of the punters when a chunk of the grotto turned round and glared at them!

Watch out for Act 2 Scene 2 sometime soon, when I might actually get as far as telling you about the Wicked Queen in the title image.






14 thoughts on “Theatre Textiles Act 2 Scene 1

  1. Oh Ann – I don’t know where to start – your talent is amazing.
    The make up with the porridge is frighteningly good!
    Carborundum is fabulous – how long did it take you to make that costume?
    I’d love to see a close up photo of the rat – he sounds wonderful.
    It must have been interesting to meet Sir Terry 🙂

    1. Thanks Lyn. Great fun all round. So far as I can remember, the troll costume took me about a week, working on and off. It needed a friend to help place the pieces of foam while I was wearing the Tee shirt and old trousers that are underneath it all (painted grey with acrylic paint of course).
      Sir Terry was a joy to meet. You wouldn’t have thought that he was suffering from dementia by then, except that he always had a friend on hand to help if he felt the need.
      I’m afraid that I don’t have any better pictures of the rat – those two were extracted from the video of the show. We always get our pantos and most of the plays filmed – but only for the cast members of course. I don’t know if there is any way of getting a good still from a film. At that time it didn’t occur to me to record the process for posterity!

  2. As Lyn has said, I hadn’t finished admiring one before needing to ‘ooooh’ at the next.
    Love Carborundum with your planed face. The costume worked a treat, particularly if you then later scared folk when you moved.

    You must have been thrilled that Sir Terry watched the play & greeted you all.

    1. Thank you Antje. It was really great to have him there in the front row – not that I could see him until the end because of the lighting. It does help with nervousness though, you can pretend that it’s just another rehearsal.

  3. What great fun! Your costumes and makeup are wonderful and I love the ammonite. Carborundum is my favorite for sure and your planed face really works with it. Having assisted my sister with her sets, I know how much work goes into a production and these look wonderful.

    1. Thank you Ruth. Carborundum was a fun part, especially when I got to reveal that “his” name was really Ruby, while giving a rocky “camp” flounce!
      The only other part I’ve played which was more fun was Polly, Long John Silver’s ancient parrot, but more about her in another post.

  4. What an honour to have Sir Terry on the front row! And to get to meet him while wearing your tremendous Carborundum face….that really was a work of art!

  5. Wow you are very talented with makeup and costumes. Being a baddy always seems to be more fun than being the goody. I can’t imagine having to act with your arms up a camels neck. What great fun you have.

    1. Thanks Ann. Yep, being a baddie is the best fun. I’ve even played a naughty vicar, though the only textile make I had to do for that one was Jacob fleece eyebrows!

  6. There are story tellers and then there ARE STORY TELLERS and you dear Ann, fall into the latter category. Your theatre group are extremely lucky to have someone as talented and versatile as you on their books.

    What evil fun you must all have, frightening folk at Halloween around that scary castle. The idea of moving rock is ingenious and I have little doubt, unexpected.

    Carborundum is fantastic and I suspect struck quite a cord with the great man himself. I am currently working my way through the Discworld series – Sir Terry was one of a kind and a true genius – how fortunate you must have felt to meet him in person.

    Looking forward to more theatrical tales.
    Helene x

    1. Thank you so much Helene for your kind comments, they buck me up no end.

  7. Ann, I am speechless! I know what it takes to create those stage pieces. They have to present on stage, in various levels of lighting, and more importantly convey necessary information to those seated in the back of the house. To my mind, it’s like creating one of those colorblindness tests, where most of us can’t see anything, because we are not afflicted. But, put a specific filter on it, and BAM…all is clear! You have to take so much into consideration.

    Anyway, I feel like I am babbling about, but your Carborundum is a genius use of paint and foam! The ammonite is my favorite piece! I didn’t know anything about them until recently. A knitwear designer who was a geologist/paleontologist who specializes in Ammonites asked me to dye skeins of yarn for a knitting project she wanted to design. She had a piece of jewelry, in polished ammonite for me to use for the colors she had in mind. 🙄 I did a little research too.[knit pattern designer’s have a bad habit, of using gullible yarn dyers, to give them free yarn.] Hmmm…I never did heard if her pattern came to fruition.🤔😉 There’s probably some gorgeously hand painted, free yarn, in her stash! Lol!


    1. You obviously know about theatre costumes Capi. I’ve just picked it up as I went along, but when I think about it your comments are bang on. I still have a tendency to too much minute detail, as if the costume or prop is to be viewed close up, but then they sometimes are. Some of us laden with charity collection buckets meet the punters in the foyer which is quite crowded at times so they do get “close up and personal”.
      Pity about your yarn disappearing into someone else’s stash. I would have thought that she could have worked out her pattern with any colour wool and then bought some of the right colour from you. I bet that’s cured your gullibility!

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