Royal costuming at our Royal MTC

Costumes, theatre, playing dressup. These have always been major loves of my life. Growing up, the daughter of a talented seamstress, and completing some sewing projects of my own, I am no stranger to the process from finding just the right fabric to seeing or wearing the final product. 

You can imagine my joy when I was recently invited to the wardrobe department and  have a chat with Set & Costume Designer Christina Poddubiuk (hailing from Stratford, Ontario) to take a behind the scenes look at the upcoming production of THE AUDIENCE at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.

THE AUDIENCE, written by Golden Globe winning playwright Peter Morgan, offers us a glimpse inside British politics through the weekly, private audience the Prime Ministers had with Queen Elizabeth II over more than 60 years of her rein. 

One can imagine the depth of planning that would have to go into the costume and set design When depicting the life of Her Majesty, the Queen! Not only is there pageantry involved but the story skips around over many decades creating the need for many costume and wig changes for Fiona Reid, the actress portraying her. 

I learned from Christina that the building of costumes usually only happens when the cast arrives for rehearsals, mere weeks before opening night. But with the complexity and breadth of outfits necessary for the main role, the planning and creating of hers started way back in April, and built in Ontario, where the actress was working at the time. ​​

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The piece de resisitence of these works would be, of course, Queen Elizabeth’s coronation gown. Not having the benefit of custom created lace and thousands of dollars to recreate such a special piece, they hunted down a beautiful gold overlay that wasn’t too flowery. Then, with meticulous workmanship, pieced together the skirt in tapering panels, creating a one-of-a-kind pattern. I could’ve stared at it all day! ​Not surprising then that Christina and Lorraine O’Leary, Head of Wardrobe, were both rather proud to show it off to me. There will be sequins added to catch the lights. I can’t wait to see it on stage!

With roles such as footmen and members of the clergy, so many costumes had to appear as official palace garb, and would have been far too taxing a job for the wardrobe department to complete in time and so were brought in from a rental house in England. They were able to reserve these special pieces before other companies who were also producing this grand spectacle of a play. Added bonus of early planning! 

​​One cannot put on a royal play with costumes alone. Glimpsing down to where the set pieces were being built was amazing!  These massive columns and giant chandelier need to be sturdy yet light enough to transport to Toronto, where this production of The Audience will be staged after Winnipeg. ​​​
It was such a pleasure for me to witness thie costume side of theatre which , to me, plays such a giant role in a stage production. (Not to mention, life.) Seeing Christina’s sketches translated to the final product was creatively inspiring,
how quickly the costume changes need to be, for this play in particular, literally had me stressed. Not only does Fiona Reid have many different outfits to wear but she’s in every single scene of the play! On top of that, she’s playing a well known and admired historical figure who is still alive. What a very demanding role! 

I believe that the beauty and pageantry will make this a stunning play to behold, but it sounds like the talent and stories told will be what keeps the conversation going after everyone files out of the theatre doors. I can’t wait to see it all truly come to life.


THE AUDIENCE runs from November 24th – December 17th. For showtimes and ticket information, call the Royal MTC Box Office at 204 942 6537, toll-free at 1 877 446 4500 or visit www.royalmtc.ca.  

If you attend on the 25th, be sure to say hi!

And I had to play a little dressup!