HOT COALS THEATRE
HOT COALS THEATRE 

BLOG-FINDING CHARATER THROUGH COSTUME

So now you're all up to date with Hot Coals progress and you've met the cast. I thought I'd share with you one creative process that has been occupying my thoughts of late.
The process of finding physicality for my character through experimenting with costume.

In discussion after our work-in-progress presentation it became clear that Jo, who is playing Irina, had already gone some way to finding her 'old lady Irina' physicality, and that this seemed to be aided by one piece of her costume in particular. Her over-sized hat! This huge piece of costume on Jo's small frame combined with her bent double physicality paved the way for much comedy. Mainly because it completely covered her face, and a lot of her body, and gave the impression of a hat on legs.

So ideas were shared about how all three characters having contrasting physicality and shapes. It was agreed that my character, Masha, would be tall and thin. I started looking around at cartoon images of old ladies, (James and the Giant Peach and Les triplettes de Belleville) and decided I wanted to make my Masha, long, pointy and spikey. So off I went to put my costume together.

Firstly I found a long straight maxi dress, black of course this is Masha we're talking about, this was perfect for making me look like a tall shapeless column.
Next, it just had to be shoes as these plays such a big part in how we move. I had decided I wanted to add the appearance of length to my, surprisingly small, feet. I started hunting through charity shops, raising a few eyebrows when trying on shoes clearly several sizes too big for me. I found 2 pairs that I thought could work and took them to the next rehearsal. (The big Oxfam in Dalston is great for costume and props buying, by the way!) The first, a pair of men's black boots, I tried these on with my dress, the length looked great but the fact they were men's just didn't work. The second pair were women's slip-ons with very pointy toes. These were perfect apart from the fact that they didn't stay on my feet, more slip-off than slip-on, so we found some cloth and literally tied them to my feet! Job done! Moving round the studio the dress and shoes immediately impacted on how I walked and in order to get the best appearance from the shoes I had to turn my feet out and walk with my legs apart so that the shoes pointed out from under the dress’s hem to great comedy effect.
To add more height I piled my hair in a bun, right on the top of my head. I lastly added a long tight cardigan, which made me look even taller and straighter.

This was a great fun to start playing with in the studio, the costume giving me the desired effect of stature and using my physicality to create the boney, spikiness I wanted. As I was experimenting in the studio, I came across a thin walking stick (one of the advantages of rehearsing at RADA, there’s always useful props around!) this was a perfect addition, and helped me further to create the pointy angels by the way I held and used the stick. It helped to lift my shoulders and create points with my elbows. Watching back a video of the first time I put these pieces together its great to see the beginnings of the cartoon like shapes I had imagined in my head. Now I have the costume almost perfected I want to spend time exploring in depth how it affects my physicality, experimenting with different rhythms and spending long stretches inhabiting it.

The icing on the cake came to me during a visit to the theatre. I had gone to see a friend of Hot Coals in his show Little Soldiers (well worth a watch if you are going to Edinburgh this year; retheatre.com). Two actors in the show were wearing fake noses, “that’s it”, I thought, “Masha needs a pointy nose!”

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© Jo Sargeant