Costumer brings 1800s to life on stage

High Society fashions take centre stage in Langham Court Theatre’s Lady Windermere’s Fan

Morgan Ambrose

From monkey costumes to elaborate ball gowns, Diane Madill has sewn it all.

As one of Langham Court Theatre’s costume designers, she has, for half a dozen years now, been integral in bringing to life the visual aspects of the theatre company’s productions on stage.

And even though her task at hand for Langham Court’s upcoming production of Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan was daunting, she’s had greater challenges.

“To do a play like this, where you’re not coping with (the movements of actors) singing and dancing, it isn’t as challenging in some ways,” Madill said. “It’s still challenging and it’s a lot of work, but it’s quite doable.”

The retired high school teacher – she taught fashion studies, and helped make the costumes for school plays – says the biggest challenge in costuming for Lady Windermere’s Fan is the scope and wide range of intricate costumes and pieces that are needed.

“There’s 24 in the cast. There’s 13 ball gowns and then there’s day outfits as well, which are just as labour intensive,” she said. “Because of the period, there are hats and fans, very elaborate hair accessories, jewelry, the gloves, the crinolines. … And then there’s all the little details in these: the beadwork and rows and ruffles.”

Set in the late 1800s and early 1900s – the late Victorian, early Edwardian eras – Madill and fellow costume designer Susan Ferguson had to design most of the period-accurate costumes for the play from scratch.

Madill’s work began last winter, when she first read the play, then she made a spreadsheet of all the characters in each scene and how long they’re on stage. It helps her organize the needs of each character and what is required of each costume.

“That’s the way my mind works. I can look at a spreadsheet and I can see how many costumes each person needs, how quick a character’s (costume) changes are, and so you know who’s on stage together at one time, because it’s important for colour and working a palette,” she said. “I like to do a play where you’re actually designing things from scratch with piles of fabric.”

A release from Langham Court describes Lady Windermere’s Fan as an exploration of “just how horrid High Society could be behind the scenes.

“Set in a world where social graces and proper behaviour are all it takes to make-or-break one’s social-place … Oscar Wilde uses his acerbic wit and British humour to comment on the strident rules that govern London’s 1890s High Society.”

Lady Windermere’s Fan runs nightly (8 p.m.) at Langham Court Theatre (805 Langham Crt.) from Nov. 22 to Dec. 8. There are also matinees on Dec. 1 and Dec. 8 at 2 p.m.

Tickets ($21 for adults, $19 for students and seniors) are available online at Langhamtheatre.ca, in person at the box office, or by calling 250-384-2142.

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