5 Questions with Kirsteen Wythe, Norwich Theatre Royal panto costume designer

Costume designer Kirsteen Wythe puts the finishing touches to one of the panto babes costumes.

Costume designer Kirsteen Wythe puts the finishing touches to one of the panto babes costumes. - Credit: Archant

We sat down with Kirsteen Wythe, who (along with her team) designs and produces all those fabulous costumes for the Norwich Theatre Royal's Christmas pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk.

Counting down to opening night of the Norwich Theatre Royal pantomime.

Counting down to opening night of the Norwich Theatre Royal pantomime. - Credit: Archant

1. What do you do?

My job is to design all the costumes for the show, and then to work with my team of makers. I get all the fabrics and have them making it and getting everything ready for fittings, and then fit all the costumes, and then get them ready for the show. All in two months!

There's me and three other girls in the workroom, one outworker, and another girl who comes in and does the finishings. I'm full time and everyone else is on three or four days, and then as we get up to the show, everyone starts to do more hours. We all kind of live off adrenaline for those last two weeks!

The team of sewists at Norwich Theatre Royal make dozens of costumes for the annual pantomime.

The team of sewists at Norwich Theatre Royal make dozens of costumes for the annual pantomime. - Credit: Archant


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2. How did you get into this job?

I studied costume design at college but I couldn't find a job in theatre. So I set up my own company doing corsetry, and I started getting more and more commissions for one-off pieces. From there I got more costume work, and over the past few years, that's pretty much all I've done really, costume for theatre, and then for independent people as well.

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For the rest of the year, I'm a freelance designer and maker; I have a studio down the road that I work from. So this year I was in Miami working for a cruise ship, and I do freelance bits for TV and film.

I love panto, I think it's really good fun, it's a nice solid few months of concentrating on just one thing, which I really like. The rest of the year, I have my fingers in lots of different pies, so it's nice to have one big project to work on

At work in the sewing room at Norwich Theatre Royal.

At work in the sewing room at Norwich Theatre Royal. - Credit: Archant

3. How do you design the costumes?

It's a collaboration between me and Richard [Gauntlett], the director. He'll have an idea of what he wants, then it's up to me to take that and make that work. He'll give us the ideas, and I'm quite free to go and do what I want to create that - normally there's a kind of theme to work from, and then it's all about what works on stage. I really like doing his [panto dame] costumes.

For this show, I've done loads of Wild West research. I collect reference images for each character, then I go fabric shopping. The fabric tends to inspire me, and then from there that's where something comes from. I don't really draw, I just pin fabric on the mannequin, that's how I work – and then it's just in my brain, so I have to try and make the other girls see what's in there! I'm really lucky that they can interpret what I'm looking for really well.

In theory, I get a script before I start, and then I work out how many costumes there are, what needs money spent on it - for example, the finale is something that you always spend a lot on and the fabric has to be really good – and then you kind of divvy it out, so you know what you've got and what you've got to make work. That's sort of how I work it out.

4. What are the challenges in designing for a panto?

Well it's really important that they [the performers] can move, dance, aren't going to get too hot, that they can get changed really quickly. And also that the costumes will last, and be washed easily. So all those things are up there with the design – you have to combine all them together to make a good costume.

Most people have an undergarment which is what gets washed - it's not very glamorous! But everything on top stays fairly fresh, and then once the show is done, everything gets a good dry clean…

5. What skills does your job require?

I think an imagination, really. You have to have your own style, and understand what works, colour-wise and texture-wise. You actually don't have to be that good a seamstress really, to do my job. You need a good eye for detail – if you imagine a whole show together, it's those little details that make the show look amazing. You need to be able to imagine those costumes working together, working with the set, with the characters, and then that's how you create, I think, a really good show. It's about having those individual ideas, but also one general idea that works to pull everything together.

So yeah, a lot of passion – and no sleep, that's the other thing! For two months, it's no socialising, no sleep, and lots of coffee! But then, whenever we all go to rehearsals it's so nice. Because we will cry over costumes, we get so stressed out, but seeing it onstage is the nicest thing ever. It makes it really worth it.

Jack and the Beanstalk is at the Theatre Royal until 15 January. See www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk for tickets.

Jack and the Beanstalk at Norwich Theatre Royal sponsors Norwich Ice Rink in Castle Gardens until January 8. Visit icerinknorwich.co.uk

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