Curtain call for theatre costumes

LORNA MARSH It is one of Norwich's biggest secrets. But a remarkable collection of weird and wonderful costumes which is claimed to be the biggest in Europe is being broken up at an auction on November 13.


It is one of Norwich's biggest secrets. But a remarkable collection of weird and wonderful costumes which is claimed to be the biggest in Europe is being broken up.

And some unique items could be snapped up at a mighty jumble sale.

The big sell-off is all in the name of a good cause, however, because the Maddermarket Theatre is hoping to raise up to £4000 with the disposal of more than half its collection, as well as freeing valuable storage space.

An estimated 4000 costumes – which currently fill the disused St Peter Hungate church in Elm Hill, Norwich – are to be sold off at a gala auction, followed by a massive jumble sale.

The extraordinary hoard contains any material, size, style and century you would care to name. It spans decades of collection and contribution and would overwhelm even the most dressing-up-obsessed little girl.

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Every design, fabric and colour is featured and all the armed services are represented, taking up several rails by themselves.

Boxes and bags of hats and accessories line the walls – each one like a Russian doll, revealing yet more colourful treasures with each layer peeled away.

The theatre's wardrobe manager Michael Bloom said it will be a sad day when the collection is broken up.

"There is not just one single thing that stands out, it is the sheer quantity that I will miss the most.

"I could be dressing a play set in the 1920s and come in here and find the perfect style and fit for each actor just because of the number of costumes available. And with that era an elegant fit is all important.

"That is going to be so much harder now, but we need to raise money and this is the reality."

Carmen Miranda outfits and Mother Christmas ensembles rub shoulders with 1920s wedding dresses and 19th century evening gowns.

For the men there are the uniforms, Edwardian evening attire and even a rotund Plum Pudding Flea, created for a Christmas production of the Owl and the Pussycat.

Norwich's Costume and Textile Association (CTA) is handling events.

It is expected about 150 costumes will be sold in individual lots at a gala evening at the Maddermarket Theatre on Saturday, November 13.

A jumble sale of all the remaining costumes will follow in around a week with dates to be confirmed.

Vivienne Weeks, of the CTA, said she was overwhelmed by the collection when she first saw it.

"It is mind-blowing and at first we were a little apprehensive about handling such a huge amount. But we have already sorted much of it into evening wear, 1970s costumes and things like that.

"Some of the pieces are wonderful and highly sought after like the Jean Varon -designed 70s dresses and the Edwardian suits.

"The CTA is looking into buying some of the items up for auction and I know a few of our members have their eye on some pieces. But I'd also like to think young people into retro designs and vintage wear, which is becoming very popular, will be interested.

"It's a shame to see it broken up but if the pieces are going to be worn again that would be great."

Tickets for the auction priced £5 are available from the Maddermarket Theatre. Call 01603 620917 for details.

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