first_imgCostume is an integral, if not essential, part of any piece of drama – be it stage, film, or serialisation. It would certainly be a shock if actors entered the stage sans costume, that is to say stark naked. In the case of many prestigious actors – Judi Dench, Richard Griffiths, Patrick Stewart – the sensation would be an entirely unwelcome one. Some productions might be fittingly performed without clothes on, however. Pinter’s Birthday Party, for example, would be absurd if the actors performed in their birthday suits.It is taken for granted in most forms of theatre that costume is a part of the illusion of reality on stage used to create suspension of disbelief. It is easy to bring to mind period dramas where every element of costume is painstakingly reproduced to an incredible degree of accuracy. There was even a fad in the nineteenth century called ‘archaeological realism’ in which costumes and sets were historically accurate to the point of having actual functioning war engines on stage during siege scenes. However, this is an extraordinary length to go to in order to establish suspension of disbelief – too far, in fact, were the siege engines to go off accidentally.Consider a school nativity play: a horse costume does not have to look exactly like a horse in order to tell the audience of beaming parents that the character actually is a horse and to capture their attention (however, small children may attempt to authenticate this by urinating on stage). In fact, the real function a costume serves is to tell the audience something about the character wearing it. In some modern theatre, the actors will simply wear neutral, black clothes; they can change character easily, the spectacle of the costume doesn’t detract from the action on stage, and any individual detail of costume employed stands out much more.Sometimes, the idea of costume at all is a hindrance. Some performances of forum theatre are conducted in a public space, without making it known that the drama is a fiction; the actors then try to get any spectators of the action involved. The whole idea, in this instance, is to appear inconspicuous – the actors do not want to alert the public to the fact that a performance, as such, is happening. Costume becomes ‘anti-costume’: it attempts to show that the character is not a character at all.So, thesps: dress up, dress down, or take a leaf out of Daniel Radcliffe’s book and undress. Avoid horses, though. There are laws about that. Whatever you do, you’re showing us a part of your character.By Ryan Hockinglast_img read more