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3 Diary

While this book was in gestation I started to keep a diary - as much as anything else to examine what the purpose of my never-ending journeys by car, train and plane were actually for. Perhaps it’s a bit anecdotal, but it does give a pretty convincing picture of what a costume designer’s job is like. Often it is full of annoying loose ends, and you just have to keep them as tidy as possible. The way productions overlap here is a practical lesson in the advantages of mild schizophrenia for the designer and reader alike.

A big RSC show is about as big as it gets in the UK straight theatre, and effectively no other theatre except the RNT has a workforce large enough to pull out all the stops as you will see happening here.

A Christmas Carol 10 Oct - 25 Dec 1994

You might think that this gap was occupied by a Christmas break. Wrong. It was taken up by a transfer of the RSC’s Love’s Labours Lost to the Barbican prior to a world tour, but I thought the reader needed a rest. I decided to include details of this Figaro because it is an example of one that did not go particularly smoothly and as such it is a text-book example of how misunderstandings can arise. Not that the final results were any the less satisfactory.

Marriage of Figaro 3-27 Jan 1995

Changing Horses

Some designers manage their careers entirely by themselves and are excellent at business deals. But I am not one of them. I design and I negotiate what I have designed onto the back of the actors, and that’s what I do. I don’t mind creating and managing budgets but I can’t bear hassling about my own fees; so for better or worse, I depend on an agent to sort out the deals and collect the money. There is something quite psychically vulnerable about working in an intuitive or instinctive way and I need an agent as a kind of air-lock between me and the so-called real world if I am to do work of the quality which I know myself to be capable. I hope this section gives an insight into this question.

8 April 1995
On Sunday I won the Olivier Best Costume Award for Triumph’s A Month In The Country [directed by Bill Bryden, with Hayden Griffin’s sets and starring Helen Mirren & John Hurt, at the Albery] and the RSC Love’s Labours’ Lost [directed by Ian Judge, with John Gunter’s sets and featuring one of Daniel Massey’s last performances as ??].

During the preceding month, when I’d known I’d got the nomination, I kept reminding myself and others of Mæ West’s aphorism that ‘goodness had nothing to do with it’ – after all, the wonderful Nigel Hawthorne didn’t win an Olivier or an Oscar for King George – & you’re not telling me he wasn’t head & shoulders above the opposition.

The week before was memorable for the fact that it was my birthday and I can’t remember when I have felt so miserable. Anthony Page said it was ‘Post-Raquel Stress Syndrome’ – whatever it was it was deeply unpleasant, exacerbated by the first and last visit to a new local doctor who clearly thought I was as batty as Anita Roddick for saying that progesterone (a natural HRT) is better than the chemical one beloved of the medical profession.

At the Olivier Dinner Dennis Marks [General Director ENO] insisted that I sit next to him. He said how pleased he was that Figaro had been such a success and told me he is talking about David Leveaux doing Salome. I hope I didn’t talk myself out of a job [tho history reveals that I did, or rather that Dennis himself did soon afterwards!]. When he went on to tell me how much he hated the opera I got so bored I went table-hopping as soon as I decently could; and fetched up with Des Barritt and Chris Luscombe (who were both in LLL) before surrendering to Ian’s demand to be introduced to Raquel - who was still hanging around London hoping that The Millionairess, whose tour had ended, would come into town. On my way over I discovered Jamie Barbour, the Artistic Director of Guildford, hiding behind a pillar to avoid being seated next to her for dinner.

As it’s the first serious award I’ve ever won I am very pleased to have it. I hope the acknowledgement will give me the confidence to be more certain about what I want for myself. Paradoxically, the very weekend of the award coincided with my decision to leave my agent of some 15 years. There may be ‘50 Ways To Leave Your Lover’ but I haven’t so far found a painless way to leave the agent. Every time I express my dissatisfaction with my pattern of work he takes me to The Ivy and listens very sympathetically to me saying I’m at the height of my powers and that I should be making a bit of money doing films instead of endless theatre for the price of the bus fare. But every time I try to creep out of the pigeon-hole he has assigned me I get promises, and an audible sigh of relief when sufficient theatre work causes me to shut up again for another six months. I keep not getting put up for films because not having done any recently my name is unknown in that world.

The problem is, who’s any better? Other actors’ & directors’ agents by & large don’t want to be bothered with stage designers, who are neither glamorous nor lucrative … unless they’re doing musicals. The fact that he’s been a good and valued friend has complicated the relationship in terms of making him see what I want and need. Finally, after talking to a number of agents, I take the plunge and decide to go solo. [In fact, a few months later I join KCPM, the agency which had expanded out of all recognition from the days when it was Kenneth Cleveland Personal Management, my former agent.]

Simon Boccanegra 2 May - 28 June 1997

Work doesn’t always fit together as neatly as this. But I was fortunate that a week or so after Boccanegra a film came up. As this would be my fourth film in two years I was somewhat better prepared than when I was only just getting back into the different work-patterns of film.

Tom's Midnight Garden 10 July - 24 Oct 1997

Postscript

In fact, neither happened and instead I had the dubious pleasure of resting for eight months, the longest gap in my whole career, Absolutely nothing was shooting in the early part of the year. So after six months increasing frustration at things not happening -and the false alarm of a faxed Oscar nomination intended for the wig department of Mrs Brown- I was surprised to receive a BAFTA Film nomination, and even more delighted to win it.

And did this is start the phone ringing? It did not. Not at least for another couple of months, and only then for a film of The Clandestine Marriage which had been on a back burner for over a year. And the moral of it is … never imagine you’re past the point where it’s safe to relax.