As the Royal Shakespeare Company opens its costume store to the public for the first time, Catherine Lillington takes a look at what historical treats are on offer.
It’s the crown that transformed Dr Who into the Prince of Denmark and it could be yours for £20 a week.
David Tennant’s Hamlet prop is just one small item in what might be the best dressing-up box imaginable.
Inside an ordinary warehouse, on an industrial estate just outside Stratford-upon-Avon, are 30,000 costumes belonging to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s costume store.
Until now only the likes of film directors have been among a select band to have their pick for the wardrobes of Shakespeare in Love, Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood and Gladiator.
But now the collection is opening up for the first time.
Scaffold-like poles of clothes rail span the entirety of three floors.
“It’s a pretty amazing stock, there are not many other places like it in the world for quality and volume,” said store assistant, Lindsey Archer, who set her heart on working there as a 16-year-old on work experience.
But some Tennant fans are hard to please.
“We had a call around the time of a sale we had to see if we were selling unwashed David Tennant socks,” said Lindsey.
“The man called three times. He was prepared to spend £50 – we told him ‘no’.”
Some of the company’s costume stock is almost 50 years old.
“It goes from Greek, Roman up to modern day and everything in between,” said Lindsey, who once borrowed a gold Charleston dress for a 1920s party she went to. Obviously our forte is Jacobean, Elizabethan. We have the most rotation in that because they’re the most shows we do.”
Close to a box of cod pieces are ladies’ bum rolls for Elizabethans crazy in love with the Beyonce look.
Any sound is swallowed up by the miles of material in billowing skirts and puffed sleeves.
“We lose each other all the time,” said Lindsey. “You can be shouting for someone and they just can’t hear you.”
The 24-year-old pulled out a dress worn by Glenda Jackson who joined the company in 1964.
“It was made by Jean Hunnisett – she was like an oracle in the costume world,” she said.
Amazingly the Elizabethan-style dress with braided bodice is also available for hire.
Customers are asked to budget for about £65 for a full costume. But the replacement fee is ten times the hiring price.
Surround shelving scales 20ft of wall. Stacked on them are ladies’ shoes of every colour, bonnets, military headwear and asses’ heads. Near a plastic laundry basket labelled “Tudor shoes” is a pair of brown boots once worn by Kenneth Branagh.
Beside outfits from 1910 to 1980 are a row of fat suits.
“Simon Callow wore that in the Merry Wives of Windsor when he played Falstaff,” said Lindsey, holding one of the spongy suits to one side.
“They’ve just come back from Henry IV and V filming at the BBC as part of the Cultural Olympiad.”
The production, due to be shown on TV later this year, stars Tom Hiddleston who played Loki in the Marvel comic adaptation of Thor, directed by Branagh.
Twentieth-century combat gear hangs next to its medieval equivalent.
Along a row of breast plates, Lindsey selected one which inspired Janty Yates who won an Oscar for best costume design in Gladiator.
“She came to look at our stock and used this breast plate as the basis for Russell Crowe’s two breast plates,” said Lindsey.
“He wears one of them in the first gladiator battle against the Barbarians.
“She brought the Oscar in with her when she was returning the costumes – I got to touch it but I didn’t get to meet her.”
* Last weekend, as part of Stratford’s annual birthday celebrations for the Bard, the RSC launched the World Shakespeare Festival – the biggest celebration of the playwright ever staged. For more information about the festival, which runs until November, visit www.worldshakespearefestival.org.uk