While the envy-fuelled title character of the Globe’s Othello (2014) may take centre stage, the military-inspired costumes threaten to steal the show. The striking costume designs pay homage to the original military setting of the play, and yet, far from the Venice of Shakespeare’s Othello, director Bill Buckhurst and creative director Hannah Clark turned to the First World War as a springboard for inspiration.
Courage and camaraderie are encapsulated in the khaki uniforms, military headwear and character-enhancing moustaches donned by this male-heavy cast. Their design somewhat oxymoronically both unites and divides the characters through the use of regimental ranking. So what were the thought processes behind them?
The costumes are currently exhibited in the Globe’s latest Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank collaboration - an educational initiative offering secondary schools in London, and now Birmingham, tickets and other resources in support of their study of Shakespeare. Speaking with PETRIe, wardrobe supervisor for Othello Laura Rushton offers a backstage glimpse into the important role of costume as unspoken storyteller.
Elizabeth Neep: Laura, How did you first get involved in costume supervising for Shakespeare’s Globe productions?
Laura Rushton: I started off as a dresser one season, and then did some making for the following season. When the next season came around and they were looking for someone to supervise for one of the small-scale tours, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. For me, supervising is the perfect mix of designing and making - organisational whilst still maintaining the creativity.
EN: How much creative freedom did you experience in this role? Is there anything you wanted to do in practice but couldn't?
LR: With military costume you are very much dictated by realism and fact, limiting the creative touch - we had to use a certain amount of artistic license; I know that anyone who is passionate about the accuracy of military costume might have something to say about that!
EN: Did you source pre-existing pieces or create parts of the costumes from scratch?
LR: The costumes were all hired - military costume is such an area of expertise that it is better left to the experts! We had picture references for all of the ranking officers, and the script does mention certain ranks, so it was easy to place them, then the remaining characters slotted in depending on their place amongst the others. The ladies costume was also hired, as Hannah [Clark] wanted a worn-in look and nothing that was too fresh.
EN: What is your favourite costume featured in Othello, and why?
LR: The military uniforms are fantastic; they really make you stand properly and carry yourself well. Even the caps are designed to be worn low on the forehead so that you stand up straight and look up. I would say that, just for the details on the high-ranking officer’s costumes, they are my favourite. It's amazing what a bit of bling can do for khaki wool!
EN: What will you be working on next?
LR: I'm currently working on the tour of King John for the Globe. It is to celebrate the anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, and is the first time the Globe have ever performed it, making it the last in the set of all of Shakespeare's works. It will be performed in some amazing religious spaces including Salisbury Cathedral, heavily candlelit and medieval in style with a slight modern twist! Look out for their shoes!
[Othello is specially created for 11 - 18 year olds at Shakespeare's Globe as part of the flagship Globe Education project, Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank. Running until 21st March, click here to find out more]
Words: Elizabeth Neep
Photography: Cesare De Giglio