Illustration by Ben Beechener
A month has passed since 00production’s rendition of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, graced our stage and transported us to 1785 London. And, whilst the script and soundtrack are at the heart of any musical, the fantasy is not complete until the costume designers and stylists curate the image of the characters who we grow to love and hate.
During the run up to the show I sat down with costume designer Hannah Haseloff and hair and make-up designer Claire Gordon-Brown to discuss their hopes, fears and inspirations ahead of the upcoming performances. Haseloff expressed that she was most excited for the audience to witness what she described as “the glow-up” of Mrs Lovett between acts 1 and 2, and what a glow up it was. Between the acts we saw Maggie Moriarty’s Mrs Lovett transform from an underwhelming stripped dress and apron, that looked like it had skipped ten too many laundry days, into a vibrant and striking red dress with a black choker necklace – no doubt emphasising Lovett’s newfound sexuality as she tries to win over the affections of Daniel McNamee’s Sweeney Todd.
Haseloff said that she “wanted more of a modern look” for the characters and so aimed to exaggerate costumes and utilise features such as Moriarty’s short hair to make Georgian London more recognisable to a 21st Century audience. Having previously designed costumes for a Magdalen College garden play, Haseloff describes herself as a ‘Victorian specialist’ and finds inspiration in “Alexander McQueen’s gothic” creations.
Red was a prominent colour throughout the costumes, however the English Literature student within me longed for this to be interwoven further within the plot aside from the obvious murderous associations. Perhaps by placing a subtle red accessory on each character who faces a gruesome death at the hands of Sweeney, a greater sense of foreshadowing could have been achieved as opposed to red features dotted here and there such as the red neckerchief around Molly Jones’ Toby who (SPOILER ALERT) doesn’t die.
Nevertheless, small details like these can be forgiven upon sight of Pirelli’s wonderous outfit worn by Ollie Khurshid which was, in my humble opinion, greater than that of Sacha Baron Cohen’s in Tim Burton’s 2007 film. Haseloff’s design, which was a perfect blend of camp and extravagance, allowed Khurshid’s hilariously flamboyant portrayal of Pirelli to steal the show and capture a special part of our hearts (and the cast who voted Khurshid best costume), an outfit similar to that which I would expect from a West End production.
Gordon-Brown highlighted the struggles that COVID-19 had posed to the hair and make-up department as, with very little time to familiarise herself with the cast, she had the challenge of teaching all actors how to do their own make-up bases as to maintain social distancing and good hygiene as much as possible. Despite these difficulties, Jones’ grey dirt marks drawn across her face were eye-catching and further enhanced the imagery of a neglected child whilst the hair styling gave Jones a boyish charm and added to her characterisation of Toby.
Haseloff described herself and Gordon-Brown as having a “natural perfectionism within costumes and make-up” and was impressed by their dedication to keeping a “very low budget,” taking on time-consuming, meticulous tasks such as stitching tiny pearls all around Lucy’s bonnet by hand, or “hollowing out the eye sockets for Sweeney.”
Gracie Oddie-James’ portrayal of the beggar woman/Lucy was nothing short of memorable however much like Erin Broadhurst in her review of the performance, I was left feeling underwhelmed and not just by the directorial decision to place the climax of the plot at the start of the performance. Oddie-James held nothing back when it came to her embodiment of the beggar woman however her costume and makeup was arguably too well presented for a woman who has been hard done by and lost so much in life. Now I believe wholeheartedly in the words of Eva Bailey (ensemble), that “Gracie Oddie-James could make a potato sack look stunning,” yet it was a struggle to convince myself to believe that Todd did not recognise his wife until her death. The beggar woman frequently appeared clean and decorated with a floral bonnet and a pretty dress which even Oddie-James’ talented performance, struggled to distract us from.
Gordon-Brown described Sweeney as being “here for the murder and the vibes” and Sweeney Todd’s very own Daniel McNamee himself attested to this stating that that, should Sweeney ever come into our century, he would be “an e-girl” at heart, never seen without his favourite accessory “those damn razors.” In contrast to Sweeney, Oddie-James and Jones believed Toby and Lucy would possess a more “soft boy/cottagecore” vibe (I’m begging Sondheim to give these characters the wholesome ending they deserve) whilst beggar woman is “probably into climate sensitive slow-fashion” – we love a sustainable queen.
Looking towards the future, Haseloff dreams to design for a production of Macbeth, that is a little on the quirky side, where Lady Macbeth has a “pastel 1950s/1960s” theme. Gordon-Brown meanwhile hopes to work on a production of Dracula but thinks that “Othello is a great play to study from a modern perspective.” Through these interviews my admiration for the costume and make-up departments has increased as they have persevered in challenging circumstances and it is all too easy to forget that COVID-19 has affected crew members just as much as the cast. I look forward to seeing future creations of Hasseloff and Gordon-Brown and it is good to know that there is no shortage of Shakespeare lovers in the Oxford design departments!