What goes on in a panto costume warehouse?
- Credit: Archant
Panto stars across the country will spread festive cheer in costumes created in Blackpool, writes Paul Mackenzie
Tucked away on a grey industrial estate on the fringe of Blackpool is Lancashire’s most colourful wardrobe. Rail after rail of garish bright dresses are topped with shelves full of ostentatious hats, gaudy wigs and boxes of showy jewellery.
By now, these costumes will have left their warehouse and taken centre stage in pantomimes around the country (oh yes, they will). Wardrobe manager Elizabeth Hunt will send hundreds of costumes to theatres from Bath to Basingstoke and, closer to home, the Grand in Blackpool.
When Nigel Havers steps on stage as Fleshcreep in Jack and the Beanstalk, he’ll be wearing a costume created by Elizabeth’s small team. Pop star Sonia will be wearing one when she plays the Fairy Godmother in Rhyl as will Su Pollard when she appears as the Wicked Queen in Snow White in Blackpool.
Mum-of-two Elizabeth oversees the team who design, make and repair the costumes and she said: ‘We will be providing costumes for 11 pantomimes this year as well as musicals, and we also hire costumes to amateur dramatic groups across the country.
‘Each panto needs about 100 costumes and we try to make sure the costumes have an element of the actor’s character in there, so we get feedback from them and can make changes. Su Pollard, for instance, is brilliant but she can be quite particular as well. She asked for rings to go with her costume, so I asked how many and she said she wanted 10, one for each finger!’
Elizabeth, from Whitestake, is a former pupil at Penwortham’s All Hallows High School who originally wanted to work in set design before moving into costumes and starting work for UK Productions 12 years ago. The company is headquartered in Surrey and has a props department in Shropshire as well as its costume base in Blackpool.
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They moved to their warehouse near the end of the M55 two years ago, after their previous base came close to bursting at the seams. To a visitor, it seems they’re about to repeat the feat, with costumes and accessories piled high in every available space, but Elizabeth – who works with three part time seamstresses, one full time member of staff and her mum Mary, who does the washing – knows where everything is.
The costumes are arranged by show and by character; on one rail are scores of dames’ outfits, across the aisle a selection of wolf costumes and around the corner more princess dresses than poor Cinders could dream of.
And piled high near the washing machines are boxes of gloves, belts, braces, scarves, shoes, handbags, helmets, swords and much more – everything and anything a colourful production might need.
Elizabeth said: ‘We design and make the costumes, refurbish them and get them ready for productions. When the costumes come back to us in January, that’s a quite a big time for am dram so we hire a lot out and have to turn them around quickly. Then we have to get them all cleaned and refurbished in time for the promotional pictures for the shows next Christmas. It’s a year-round job.’
But is there time in the busy schedule to take in a show? ‘I do see quite a few pantomimes,’ she said. ‘My son loves going to see the panto, it’s a real highlight for him. But I spend most of my time keeping an eye on the costumes.’