Cyrano costume designer Jo Briscoe – who is also realising Elizabeth Gadsby’s set design – shares insights into her inspiration for dressing the characters in Virginia Gay’s joyful new play.
What was your inspiration for the Cyrano costume designs?
The design for Cyrano has evolved in a really organic way. All design is collaborative, but this production in particular required us to find a dramaturgical language to hold the play in, and so the costume design had to respond to the framing of the set design, and work within that same theatrical language. It’s contemporary, so I had a lot of initial research from current fashions, street photography and current trends, especially current queer fashion. I also looked back at the setting of the original Rostand text, all swashbuckling and ruffs, and considered ways to incorporate a nod to those fashions through a contemporary lens. The cast have also informed the design through the fitting process, as we adjust the designs to respond to the elements they bring to the text, and adjust to the developments and evolutions of the script through the rehearsal process. It’s been especially collaborative and also hugely enjoyable.
A selection of the costumes worn by these characters. Designs are refined during rehearsal and the final garments sometimes look very different to the original concept. Costume designs by Jo Briscoe.
What does Cyrano’s costume tell us about her character?
Cyrano is the smartest person in the room but has built a solid defence against the world and any judgement it may have of her, so her costume is her armour. She ensures she looks tough enough to not mess with, ever the soldier, playing it super cool - but this hard shell of defence is also the thing that stops her from getting what she wants. As her facade begins to crack, we get to see the truth and vulnerability within her. To paraphrase Leonard Cohen, the cracks in everything are where the light gets in, and Cyrano gets her light when she finally begins to drop her defences.
Do you consciously think about contrast when designing these costumes?
Contrast is a foundation of design, and often a way for us to communicate to the audience extra information about the relationship of the characters to each other. In this production, there’s contrast between the chorus and the other characters, and a strong contrast in colour from the beginning to the end. Contrast isn’t always about opposites either, for example there is a strong visual alignment between Cyrano and Yan, both soldiers, both after the same girl - so therefore quite similar!
What practical considerations are in your design?
There are not loads of quick changes to be achieved in this production, with lots of the action taking place on stage, but we do have the occasional bit of elastic helping us out! The primary practical consideration has been in making sure the costumes allow sufficient movement for the performers, which means some sections of the costumes are re-made to allow more stretch and flexibility for the cast, and we also ensure they will be safe when kneeling or crawling by hiding some padding underneath to allow them to make it through 8 shows a week!
Costume designs evolve over time, and are often adapted to suit the actors who will wear them. Costume designs by Jo Briscoe.
Work on the set for Cyrano has been shared between yourself and Elizabeth Gadsby. Can you talk us through this arrangement – for example: who did what, and how you worked together?
This has been an unusual arrangement due to Covid, actually. Elizabeth is based in Sydney and the risks of interstate travel are just too great at the moment, so the solution has been to have Elizabeth deliver the set design through to the final design presentation, which takes place a few months prior to rehearsals commencing. This means she built the set model and delivered the design documentation to the MTC. From that point on, I’ve been the eyes on the ground, consulting with the workshop staff and resolving design decisions that have arisen through rehearsals, helping to make choices in props and any other details that have arisen. It’s a very unusual arrangement but I think we have made the best of it!