An Interview with Rosanna Vize, Co-Costume Designer on The Last Days of Mankind

The set is installed in the Theatre and sound of marching or gunfire seems to be continually resonating from within, it can only mean one thing: The Last Days of Mankind is about to open here at Bristol Old Vic. We can’t wait! To accompany the stunning designs are some brilliant costumes by co-costume designers Liesel Corp and Rosanna Vize. Liesel is a regular at our theatre, having designed The Life After amongst other productions here, and she’s been working in partnership with Bristol Old Vic Theatre Student Rosanna to create a sumptuous array of beautiful costumes. We managed to track Rosanna down to find out about what been going on in the wardrobe department.

Describe an average day in your role as a costume designer.
No day is the same.  You never know what’s on the cards.  A typical designer would be balancing about three projects at once and they really push that at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.  It’s just about being on call all the time and having three costume supervisors means that those calls have literally tripled.

What are the influences on your design?
The big one is graphic novels.  That came from the propaganda images you see from slightly after the First World War which are so Dadaist with all these bright colours.  In my head, the characters in this play are almost like superheroes and villains and Vienna is like Sin City, this fake world that doesn’t exist full of caricatures.  We spent a lot time drawing comic books so we could perfect our designs.  Maybe one day we will make the graphic novel of The Last Days of Mankind as a side project!

The other big one is Tarantino.  There is so much hilarious, grotesque violence, like the archbishop holding a machine gun which feels just like it has popped out of a Tarantino film.  It’s amazing that Karl Kraus wrote it so long before anyone like Tarantino existed.

Which costume was the most fun to design?
My favourite ones to design were the journalists.  There’s this typical look of the 50s journalist with his hat and we didn’t go that way, that’s boring.  When you look at journalists from across the ages, they are a really interesting group of people.  They are so rushed all the time.  You always see these men with dodgy shirts from Primark with a utility coat over the top and a bad hat and obviously the journo mac.  There’s something that slightly clashes with utility versus office wear because they will be standing outside the House of Commons for ten hours and then they will be in the office typing it all up.  Obviously journalists aren’t always men but in this show they are.  They were definitely my favourite.

There are 29 characters in the show, all with different costumes.  How have you approached this?
I’ve really enjoyed it because often at the Theatre School you’ll be given a script with actors playing five characters.  This means the designing mainly focuses on the continuity of getting them to switch costumes really quickly.  Whereas with this, there are 26 actors playing 29 characters (only three actors are multi-roling) and I have been able to be really specific because they don’t change.  In that way, it has actually been much more straight-forward.

What’s it been like collaborating with Liesel Corp on costume design?
It’s been really, really great.  We get on and we’ve got quite a similar style.  Liesel’s at that stage of her career where she’s on the way up and she’s a really good, modern, young designer so it’s been amazing to watch her at work, to see how she interacts with people, and to learn from that.  And her eye for detail is just bang on!  Also because there are 29 characters we’ve been able to split them up but still talk about it if things aren’t working.

If you could design any production what would be?
I really want to work in a theatre company that I have been with from the early days.  Something that involves a real collaboration and getting to know the director and the actors really well.  It’s not so much an ideal production but an ideal situation, where we’ve had a year maybe to research and develop something.  If not that, then I really like modern adaptations of Chekhov.  I really like nihilistic, bleak writing that’s got a dark comic edge which is why I like The Last Days of Mankind so much.  But hopefully in twenty years I will be in the new Kneehigh!

What’s next for you?
There’s an exhibition of our Theatre School designs at The Royal West of England Academy from 25th June to 3rd July.  And I will be meeting lots of directors and designers so hopefully something will come from that.  I want to stay in Bristol and form a company.  I love working here – Bristol Old Vic is great and Bristol’s a lovely city so that’s where I want to base myself.

The Last Days of Mankind runs at Bristol Old Vic from 18-29 Jun. Find out more here.

Interview by Alex Milward.

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