3 Jan 1995
Without a pause to Glasgow, via Clapham, adjusting a few new costumes on the way. The latest problem in Scotland is that theyve changed the schedule to give David Leveaux a couple more rehearsal sessions. So theres nearly another row as Julian the TD was assuming I will be staying up till Saturday for the fittings: but I pointed out that if Id been told this before Xmas at the same time as eveyonelse I couldve rearranged things. But Im certainly not going to three days before a house-warming party.
We started the piano Dress [Rehearsal] on Thursday and are about two thirds of the way through it. Its going well enough technically, but no one has had a chance to run it yet, so our poor Susanna is very nervous because its her debut in the role and hasnt yet been given a chance to sing it right through from start to finish.
David disagrees with some of my design decisions and took Vicki Mortimer [set designer] and me out to supper the other night in order to discuss things. Its not easy to stick to your guns at someone elses considerable expense, but I think I managed to defend most of the things that really mattered to me. For instance, I dressed two choristers in gardening breeches, but he feels that they should be in skirts like all the others, but I have gone a bit deaf about that. However I have agreed to put the Susanna, who is seriously well endowed, in a black dress instead of a gray one which will be far kinder to her. But a more serious rift seems to be developing that will probably have more difficult repercussions for the wardrobe. I thought he was happy with my rather delicate 50s palette, but it seems that now he has seen the costumes on stage, that something about them is making him nervous. David seems to want the whole thing to be darker and more tragic in feel, more black in a word.
I mention this here because these are very real issues which a designer faces. Not only do you need to cultivate idioms for different directors, you also have to develop a sense of judgment as to how best to negotiate for the visual elements you really think matter within each production. There are always conflicting pressures and opinion. Given that everyone is always working against the clock, some cherished things will almost inevitably have to be sacrificed; but the art of successful design (and of survival) lies in being clear about the relationship between verbal and visual grammar. To dig your heels in and fight may win your immediate battle but often ruptures the psychic envelope within which you and your colleagues have to operate. I am sorry to say that on this occasion I very nearly did that, but with considerable self-restraint I suggested a new idea so that offering a third way through the problem, which combined the best of what we both wanted, we both could climb out of our respective positions without loss of face; but I somehow rather doubt that well work together again.
By trial and error I have discovered a whole range of words its disastrous to use with David attractive, pretty, sweet, lovely, in period on the other hand psychologically convincing, sexy, undecorated, simple, pure and, of course, black all pressed the right button. I did feel that I had been doing too much work with Ian Judge, and so I fear did he!
This does to some extent define the frustrations of being a costume designer. Youre somewhere around the middle of the creative ladder when it comes to production. Half of your job is to fit seamlessly in with what the directors and set designer have already conceived. And indeed the more brilliant you are, the more you fit in, and the more you fit in the less space your own ego has to express itself. I dont have a huge problem with this but in my search for balance I would certainly like to be able to do more work where I was actually trying to express something personal rather than always obeying the demands of the text, or the nuances of the production, or the whims of the director, or the style of the set designer.
Weve sorted out most things about the clothes, with the exception of an overcoat saga: John Liddell the cutter made the most beautiful black uniform for the Count to wear in Act IV but I think that David feels it makes him look too glamorous, so would I get him an overcoat to hide the uniform?
This was a most upsetting development, I know David thinks Im being difficult, but I do think that a long second-hand coat would make him look very commonplace, so I tried everything, including putting the Count in a really horrible coat David was certain to hate - which indeed he did. So finally I said what actually are you trying to achieve? He replied that he thought the Count was looking too lightweight, not enough of a threat sexually which is true. I therefore offered to put him in a grubby vest over which he can wear his coat open and well break down the gold to render it shabbier.
However what finally persuaded David to abandon the coat has nothing to do with anything visual, its my commenting how effective both Figaro and the Count are as mirror-images of each other without coats. Because I utter the magic word psychological he agreed with me at once. Anyway by fair means or foul at least I manage to save Johns lovely uniform.
The Piano Dress Rehearsal goes very well. As a production it has great emotional clarity and the three girls who are making their debuts (Claires Burgess & Rutter as Cherubino & the Countess and Lisa Milne as Susanna) are every bit as extraordinary as they should be. They not only sing beautifully but look wonderful and act intelligently.
I am called down in a panic to London to sort out Loves Labours Lost. The wigs have been getting steadily worse during the lifetime of the production. After a season of being dressed by people who hadnt bothered to look at the originals, when they came to be remade at the Barbican everyone thought of them as far more complicated and earlier in style than they actually were. I arrive shortly before the show and make a start on sorting things out. After a night in a beastly hotel, I go in the next day to show how the wigs should look while trying not to ruffle more than the bare minimum of feathers in the wig room.
25 Jan (the day before the 1st Night)
Now Ive had a little rest & Im going into the theatre for the pre General Rehearsal of Figaro and have another row about Almavivas coat I expect. But I feel we progress in spite of all.
There are all sorts of projects being talked about. I have in theory got work for most of the year and I hope Ive taken a slightly firmer stance with the agent about what I want. Offenbachs Belle Hélène has been agreed at ENO in a new version by Michæl Frayn to be called La Belle Vivette. Don Quichotte is certainly going to Melbourne. Which gives me more confidence to hold out for a reorientation in my career. Its hard to be firm about striking out in a new direction when what you wish for may not materialise, and theres a real danger of your existing work-pattern falling apart.
Ive just heard that Ms Welch had finally accepted that Givenchy or Versace are not going to design her costume, and so has deigned to be dressed by me. Apparently what caused the change of mind was her phoning Maggie Smith who kindly gave me a glowing reference, bless her. Ill try & show her some of the things I used as references for Loves Labours. They tended to be very slinky and slashed to the waist. There isnt strictly speaking an evening scene in it, but I imagine we could arrange for one! I look forward with some trepidation to the project [ how right I was; altho she looked well enough on stage, what went on beforehand was indeed a Cautionary Tale for which there is not room here.]