Gilbert and Sullivan Archive



JANICE E DALLAS: In researching the Early Tudor period, in the attempt to costume The Yeomen of the Guard as realistically as possible, and comparing what I found to examples of how it was originally costumed, I found serious discrepancies. Now, since I'd always believed Gilbert to be meticulous in his costume designs, e.g. the Iolanthe peers, and the Patience dragoons, I began to wonder what happened in Yeomen. Somewhere along the line, I read that he only personally designed a few of the operettas, using professional designers for the rest. Could he have depended on their accuracy blindly, or were the designs interpreted to suit a Victorian audience? One of the major problems I have with it, is that the designs look Elizabethan, complete to the ruff, while the time period is that of Henry VIII (as are the Yeomen's insignia).

For the show, I stayed with Early Tudor's broader styles, with a few exceptions. We used the small ruff trim, introduced by Mary I, and some of the characters had the full "pumpkin" pants of a slightly later period. The Director decided to go with the "blue" Sgt. Meryll, and the Green/yellow/black Jack Point of an 1889 children's book that Gilbert worked on, and the headsman was the same as pictured on the 1920's cigarette card.

What have others of you done? I've seen all sorts of time periods mixed together, with 16c. Yeomen standing next to 18c. Yeomen, and Medieval costume mixed with Victorian for the Ladies.

Also, have you found that Yeomen is a more than usually stressful show for staff and management? We seem to have been continually in crisis situation, which is not our usual organized way of doing things.

MARY A. FINN: Many years ago, I once foolishly agreed to be the costume designer for Yeomen, in spite of the fact that I was also in the chorus. (Will I never learn?) I had little time, less money, and no help, so I'm afraid historical accuracy was not a priority. I mostly costumed the women and townsmen from existing stock. The few women's dresses I did make had square yokes, I remember. The idea for the yeomen uniforms was loosely adapted from the picture on a bottle of Beefeater's gin. (I looked at one in the store. I neither bought nor consumed it. A mistake, in retrospect.) They were red and had ruffs. I couldn't manage the goofy hats, although that's really what makes yeomen look like yeomen.

Through the stress and exhaustion, a few pictures remain etched in my memory:

Watching Fairfax (before the switch) prance out in his partially finished costume during a dress rehearsal: short pantaloons, bare legs (I hadn't bought the red hose for the men yet), and sneakers. Everyone in the cast (except me) cracked up.

Opening night, seeing Fairfax in his yeoman's uniform and realizing that I somehow inadvertently forgotten to add the trim to one of the front panels of his tunic. Luckily, there was time for me to make him take the tunic off, and add the trim in time for his entrance. (My sewing machine was living in the green room.)

And, after a particularly grueling dress rehearsal, when I was going without sleep for the third night in a row while I tried to get the costumes done in time, I actually cried in front of other people. Something I never do.

Is it possible Yeomen is an unlucky show?

Page created 6 June 1997