Lovers and Liars : A David Garrick Double Bill
INFLUENCES AND INSPIRATIONS:
There are many fantastic influences to take into account whilst researching 1920’s music. I immediately took to watching my favourite film, Some Like It Hot, an American comedy set in the twenties involving jazz bands and upbeat music. However, I soon learnt that this was not an entirely appropriate source for inspiration. Whilst set in the twenties, Some Like It Hot was made in the fifties and, of course, represents America at that time and not Britain.
Finding appropriate British music to establish the era of our piece was certainly more difficult. However, exploring the vast world of the British Music Hall provided the beginnings of inspiration for the production’s sound. Music Hall was a form of variety entertainment involving comedy, popular song, theatre and speciality acts which became popular in the nineteenth century. Whilst these evenings of entertainment began to decline after World War I, the 1920’s still saw many great performers and band leaders.
I was inspired, first of all, by the descriptions of a certain English band leader, Billy Cotton. Cotton set up his own orchestra, the London Savannah Band, in 1924 which began to tend towards a Music Hall style of performance. This band leader would often go into comedy skits with his band between songs, adding visual and verbal humour to the act. I found this to be influential for The Lying Valet as the Savannah Band’s music reflected their comic style and we were looking for a jazz sound to work alongside the comedy in our production.
Unfortunately, I am unable to use the music of Billy Cotton’s band for our piece as, although they performed in the 1920’s, much of their music was not recorded until the 1930’s. However, they provided a valuable influence and allowed me to identify the type of music suitable for The Lying Valet. As we draw nearer to the production, I have been listening to Noel Coward’s music which was often covered by British dance bands in hotel ballrooms throughout the twenties. Songs such as ‘Dance Little Lady’ were covered by the likes of Bert Ambrose and his orchestra. Ambrose was born British, but spent some time playing music in America before returning to Britain in the 1920’s. His time in the States evidently influenced his band as they played in an extremely upbeat jazz style. This brought more life to Coward’s music and I’ve found recordings such as this to be suitable for our production as they echo the upbeat and comic influence I found in Billy Cotton.
Some like It Hot (2012) [DVD] 20th Century Fox Entertainment
PERFORMING AND CREATING AN EARLY MODERN FARCE:
Although a great deal of research has gone into the Eighteenth Century and the dress of the era, at this point in the process it has become of most importance to explore the chosen era of our production; 1929.
When costume designing, I’ve found it useful to have a constant referral point to help me keep within our chosen period. The Handbook of English Costume in the Twentieth Century 1900 – 1950 by Alan Mansfield & Phillis Cunnington has aided all of my decisions so far since our decision to set The Lying Valet in 1929. As well as this book, I have found it useful to research recent depictions of the 1900’s such as ITV’s Downton Abbey and Mr Selfridge. These were two sources that I discussed in our design presentation last week. With each character I tried to give an authentic image of 1920’s attire then, I compared it against a current representation and, lastly, providing a costume closely resembling the dress. Using Kitty as an example, I was able to show my group exactly what ideas and research I had collated using a mood board of research…
I made time to sketch each character to make sure I had not missed out any important details. Doing this helped me polish down exactly what costume I needed to hire or make. It made the job of costume hiring departments much easier as they could see exactly what I required:
From studying the text closely I have found many farcical moments that can be enhanced by detailed costume decisions. An example of this could be demonstrated in Gayless’ and Sharp’s eveningwear. This formal attire was adhered to closely and it was somewhat humiliating to sport anything out of that social bracket. Missing accessories such as a bow tie or a tailcoat would not go unnoticed. It is specifically mentioned in the text that Sharp is down to his waistcoat.
The size of their clothes was another factor that I closely considered. Wearing larger sizes could easily accentuate Gayless’ and Sharp’s slim frames and play on their constant hunger for food. Opposing this, I also contemplated having them wear clothes a size too small. This would highlight their financial state and inability to keep up with the tailoring of their clothes.
A few ideas followed this, including Melissa’s disguise costume when she dresses up as Mrs Gadabout’s “French Nephew”. Similar to Gayless, I could equally demonstrate her financial position through costume. Our fashion was very much influenced by the French and their dress at the time was flawless and expensive. It would be comical to have Melissa’s costume upstage Gayless’ as she can afford clothes he cannot. It would also be worthwhile playing on her interpretation of a Frenchman’s fashion, i.e. garish coloured bow tie and shoes.
Having had a successful visit to York Theatre Royal, Dress Circle of York and West Yorkshire Playhouse Costume Hiring Departments, I am hoping to have all actors fitted into their costumes in early week 7. This gives me time to make more detailed decisions that enrich the comical elements of each character.
(Head of Design and Dramaturgy)
Managing both the design teams and the research teams in the production of The Lying Valet, my main crossover has been design research itself and the design research process has in the least been an eventful process so far. Our main challenge, has been being stuck between two eras for the setting of The Lying Valet.
The play was written in 1741, and both the dialogue and acting style directed in the text suggest an 18th century performance will give the comic pay-offs and performance traditions their best chance of success for a modern audience. However, the financial depression felt by Gayless, alongside the flamboyant characteristics of such players as Mrs Gadabout and her entourage, have a considerable British 1920’s ring. The difficulty here being, that myself and the design team spent weeks 2-4 religiously exploring every possible avenue of Garrick and 18th century theatre; the interesting elements of which were items such as the exploration of commedia dell ‘arte from the 1540s, and how the traditional stock characters founded there could so broadly inform the comic performance of our actors, and more specifically to design, Garrick’s role in sentimentalising theatrical art during the 18th century. Matt was particularly excited about Philippe de Loutherbourg’s work in 1781 on creating ‘a virtual world which appealed to all five of the senses’ – using sound and smell to create a theatre within a theatre was an element that we were keen on using to inform the aesthetic for The Lying Valet ; taking our audience right back to the 18th century in all elements of our use of the space.
Of course, it is difficult not to feel that your labour has been made redundant when the decision was made at the end of week four to set The Lying Valet in 1929 – a few months before the great depression. Promised that we would be able to use our 18th century research to inform our taking the play over a century further forward, we pressed on with this new direction, finding interesting links between the 2 periods. The American tradition of Vaudeville in the 1920’s greatly informed the fashion and styles of the Brits – and Theatrical Revues began to spring up in the 1890’s, staging an evening of variety acts that were reminiscent of the lengthy theatrical bill that Garrick had supported in the 1700’s. The Lying Valet and Miss in Her Teens are both farcical afterpieces by tradition, so the informed setting of 1929 would still enable us to work with the other group in creating ‘an evening of 18th century theatre’, as our marketing teams had planned.
We now sit in a fairly uncomfortable position, with two fantastic eras all researched, ready and waiting to be explored; but with 29 days and counting until opening night, it cannot help but make a dramaturg / designer feel slightly on edge.