With Julius Caesar rehearsals well under way, we interview the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School Costume Designer Eleanor Bull to find out all about the elaborate dress that awaits.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your role on Julius Caesar?
I’m currently designing costumes for Julius Caesar. The way the Masters Course works at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School is that alongside the theoretical design projects, each student will design the set for one large production, the costumes for one large production, and the set and costumes for a collaborative project with the MA Directors. Having already designed the set for Two Gentlemen of Verona at the Redgrave, working as the Costume Designer for Julius Caesar is my last major project with the Theatre School. Therefore it’s a real pleasure to be able to have this opportunity to be part of this brilliant collaboration with Bristol Old Vic, I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the completion of the course and gain experience of the industry. It’s really very exciting. Before starting on the course I was working professionally as a Costume Designer, so it feels great to be getting back into the swing of a process I know and love.
What has inspired your costume design?
For me, Julius Caesar is above all, a show about conflict. Not just the external conflict of the opposing factions vying for power, but equally each character and their internal struggle between passion and rationality, their public persona and their private life, emotion and reason. This sense of duality was something I was keen to bring into the costume scheme from the start, ensuring you see not only ‘Brutus the Politician’ but ‘Brutus the Husband’- for example. Attempting to humanise the characters so you can begin to engage with them as people, as opposed to simply politicians- or historical characters. I think it’s essentially a cautionary tale about what can happen if you ignore your emotions.
The over-riding aesthetic was in part defined by the Director’s decision to set the play in modern Italy, but equally defined through collaboration with Sarah Mercadé our brilliant Set Designer, who has designed a set combining Brutalist features with epic proportions echoing the Classical World. Drawing on that, the initial ideas for the costumes were designed to create striking and bold silhouettes that link to Ancient Roman architecture in a slatey, Brutalist palette, whilst still holding true as believable modern-dress outfits.
Who has been your favourite character to design for?
I like powerful women, and I would argue that in Shakespeare’s text there’s not nearly enough of them. Therefore I’ve really enjoyed designing for the women of our world. It’s been about creating fierce looks that emanate power, and it was incredibly interesting to do some in-depth research about how female politicians dress around the world.
Even now, it’s still so much more complicated for women when they’re in positions of power, and the decisions they make as to how they choose to present themselves are so heavily scrutinised, it’s been an interesting challenge to have to tread the footsteps of that journey myself.
What is it like working with Director Simon Dormandy?
It’s been a really dynamic working relationship and an exciting process watching ideas develop and change. Simon knows the play inside out, and is incredibly passionate about its relevance to today. He’s a really positive and engaging director to work with.
Do you think the story of Julius Caesar is still relevant today?
Absolutely. As far as I’m concerned you can see examples of this kind of political situation happening in places all over the world at the moment. It’s a short-sighted and reductively westernised opinion that all the public want is democracy. It’s a really interesting subject, and one just as relevant today as it was when it was written, or indeed in Ancient Rome. And as for politicians turning on their political leaders, you barely have to look further than our own doorstep to see that playing out.
What is it like working on a show created by Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and Bristol Old Vic?
An experience like this is invaluable. Collaboration is such an integral part of theatre, so having the opportunity to come together with Bristol Old Vic is brilliant. It changes the whole dynamic having this huge team of people all working towards achieving the same goal, and the Bristol Old Vic team have brought so much enthusiasm to the whole process. Working with such a well-established company, especially one at the centre of the local community, is an opportunity that very few students in my position are lucky enough to have, and it’s great to have that wealth of knowledge and experience backing you.
What has been the best part of working on this production so far?
During my presentation to the cast, in which I showed them the final designs for the first time as well as some bits form my sketchbook, Julian Glover had to point out to me that I’d inadvertently used a picture of him in costume for another production in my reference moodboard for the Soothsayer character! I had no idea. I’m a little bit face-blind, so I can be prone to this kind of thing happening, and luckily for me Julian didn’t take offence to me using a photo of him to inspire the aesthetic of a homeless character.
Building on the brilliant success of King Lear in 2016, we reunite with Bristol Old Vic Theatre School to present Shakespeare’s riveting political drama Julius Caesar this July. For more information and to book tickets, click here.