When the Theatre opens its doors next week for the start of its 2018 season of tours, there will be several new costumes on display thanks to the hard work of a group of dedicated volunteers.
The Georgian Theatre Experience – which tells the story of the UK’s oldest working theatre in its original form – offers a fascinating insight into the habits and behaviours of Georgian audiences and the costumes are an important part of recreating 18th century life in a rural market town.
The latest additions to the collection have been made by members of The Georgian Theatre Royal Costume Project, which has been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the recent redevelopment of the attraction. The volunteers have met on a regular basis over the last two years to research costumes from the period and also make garments that can be displayed in the museum, worn by the volunteer guides and tried on by visitors in the dressing-up area.
Amongst the garments that have been produced are a lady’s dress, a gentleman’s suit and a child’s outfit, together with full sets of underclothing, all based on designs from the 1780s. The volunteers have worked under the professional guidance of Rebecca Atkinson of Applegarth Couture; and Claire Spooner of Quaintrelle Millinery has run workshops on making 18th century hats and bonnets.
Susie Wood, the Theatre’s Heritage and Learning Officer, explains the complexity of the different outfits. “The lady’s gown is particularly intricate because it also has a matching chemise, corset (called a ‘stay’ at that time), rump pad and ‘fichu’ for the neckline. During Georgian times, the petticoat formed part of the actual skirt and this is decorated with a quilting design taken from original patterns. The quilting alone took over 60 hours! The boning, assembling and binding of the corset was also particularly challenging but we are all thrilled with the end results.”
The gentleman’s outfit incorporates an elaborate buttoned waistcoat and frockcoat, together with shirt, scarf and breeches. It is typical of clothing that would have been worn by a provincial gentleman during the period.
This year’s tours start on Monday 19 February with guided visits running on the hour from 10.00am until 4pm, Monday to Saturday, until mid-November.
The Georgian Theatre Experience can be accessed from the main entrance of the Theatre on Victoria Road. Entrance costs only £5 per person (£2 for children) and tickets are valid for 12 months to enable repeat visits.