Pictured: Sarah M. Oliver’s costume rendering of Phillip Lombard.
In this 3-part series, PerformInk Kansas City takes you inside Kansas City Actors Theatre’s production of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE through blog posts written by the people behind the scenes. To read past Inside articles click here.
By Sarah M. Oliver
When designing costumes for Agatha Christie’s play, AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, the first challenge is “ten strangers, apparently, with little in common, are lured to an island mansion”, and the second is they dress for dinner! You might think eight men in suits have great potential to be boring; however, the setting of the late 1930’s provides me a cornucopia of menswear choices to visually reinforce the distinct characters in the play. I knew after my first reading that the priority for costuming this production was to quickly establish characters as they make grand entrances. And, this being Agatha Christie, I’m sure I won’t be giving anything away by telling you people will be making abrupt and grand exits, as well.
What becomes quickly apparent is that every character has a personal history they are hiding from the others on the island. Christie has provided me with a broad range of socioeconomic levels and people pretending to be above or below their actual social standing. These people dress with particular intent in order to present themselves in a deliberately false way. I have to fuse the character’s true past with the façade they are presenting on the island to create a mixture of both that subtly inform the audience the truth behind the façade. That is the dilemma and the satisfaction of costuming a production like this.
Even though there are female characters, this isn’t a play of lavish women’s wear, or a dazzling parade of evening dresses. What we have is a bevy of men, and the audience needs my designs to help to quickly differentiate between the characters. This is an “Island of Menswear” filled with tweed, hounds tooth, check and plaid, single breasted, double-breasted, three piece, two-piece, wing collars, and turn-downs. And we haven’t even made it to the formal dinner wear yet!
The thing that truly makes my costumer’s heart go pitter patter is designing the formal wear for the vast array of character types on the island as they dress for the dinner scene. The late 1930’s was one of the greatest eras of versatility in men’s evening wear and a veritable hotbed of innovation. The increased availability of ready-to- wear tuxedos and the posh style of the Prince of Wales and Hollywood movie stars created a vogue for the midnight blue tuxedo alongside traditional black formal wear. The 1930’s also saw personalization in waistcoats of either single-breasted or double and even the backless design. White waistcoats could now be reserved for tailcoats and the “new fangled” dinner jacket could be paired with a waistcoat of matching jacket material, or even a daring colored waistcoat. Oh, the choices abound! Fortunately, Christie’s disparate cast of characters allows me to indulge in all the variety the 1930’s had to offer.
As we start rehearsals I will begin to see all the character choices develop that the actors and actresses bring to this production. It is an exciting time to mesh all the work done pre-production with the work that will happen in rehearsal. We have lured our Ten Little Soldiers to the rehearsal hall, now I just need to get them dressed before opening night.