From rags to glamorous gowns, the theatre is a wonderment of fantasy that is often brought to life as much by the costumes, as the acting and stage sets.

The costumes are also one of the more dynamic aspects of running a theatre, and an exhibition at the National shows off not just the glamour, but also the hard work that goes into making a good costume.

They have not just be realistic for some plays and fantastical for others, but also flexible in ways that normal clothing often doesn’t need to be, and reusable in a manner that modern “fast fashion” would never understand.

The exhibition is a mix of clothes on mannequins, with details about how that particular costume was used or is of interested — but also a lot of much more interesting information about how costumes are handled.

It’s obvious when stated, but it’s still facinating to learn that actors sometimes change costumes in the middle of a production to deal with issues – such as a death scene, where a delicate gown is replaced with a heavier fabrics that can be rather easier to clean the blood off  afterwards.

Costumes are also both something that remains for years in a collection, unlike say a stage set, but are also constantly being reinvented for use in different plays. In that sense, a costume can be both a historic item, and yet so altered overtime as to eradicate its history.

A lot of personal quotes are dotted around the exhibition giving insights into what motivates the people who work behind the scenes to create and maintain the costumes that will only ever be seen from a distance by the audience.

There’s a lot to see, and learn in the display, which is free to visit.

The exhibition, Costume at the National Theatre was due to run to the end of this month, but has now been extended to the end of June.


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