From grand Elizabethan costumes to traditional military uniforms, you can transport yourself to almost any century, country or character from the clothing rails at Groundlings Theatre, in Portsea.
For 20 years, the acting school and theatre company has taken to the stage countless times.
And with each production demanding different costumes, scenery and props, the theatre’s wardrobe has ballooned.
The theatre is now ‘bursting at the seams’ with more than 11,000 costumes crammed into its wardrobe department.
And to make some much-needed room, the theatre will be opening its doors to the public on August 17 to sell off some of their weird and wonderful costumes.
‘Over the past 20 years, we have built up not just costumes, but props and scenery’, explains artistic director Richard Stride. ‘Sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees.
‘The sale is not only to raise some money for future projects and to support the theatre too, but also so we can gain some space.’
For the past few months, Richard has spent his rare, quiet moments in the theatre holed up in the wardrobe dividing up the costumes into what can be sold.
The 46-year-old says: ‘At the moment we have pulled out more than 1,000 but there could be a lot more than that. I have got quite ruthless in what we’re selling.’
Every year, the theatre sets out a budget to either buy or create their own costumes.
‘Around 50 per cent are made by our volunteers and the rest we have bought from the Royal Opera House, from the National Theatre and other theatres across the UK,’ explains Richard.
‘A number of the ones from the Royal Opera House have been used so many times and we want to keep the wardrobe fresh and new.’
Elizabeth Rands has been volunteering at Groundlings Theatre for nine years where she puts her sewing skills to the test.
‘I do pretty much everything – I wash, iron, repair and create costumes,’ says the 69-year-old from Gosport.
‘It completely depends on what we need – it can take me from an hour to a couple of days to make a costume.’
It may be surprising that an amateur theatre company is home to such a vast amount of hats, dresses, suits and coats – some dating back to 1850. But up to 800 costumes are used during the Historic Dockyard’s Victorian Festival of Christmas.
‘A costume has the power to completely change a production,’ he smiles. ‘It can deliver emotion as some costumes were designed for a character that oozes aggression or evil. You can put it on and immediately feel powerful.’
There is an abundance of custom-made props, stage sets and celebrity memorabilia.
‘We have an elephant for sale that was used in The Railway Children and a ship’s head and mermaid from Peter Pan. We also have a gold throne which is a replica of the Queen’s throne,’ says Richard.
‘We have around 800 items of signed celebrity photographs, props from films and TV shows.’
He says it is a sale of ‘everything unusual and bizarre’ – you never know what will be on the next coat-hanger.
One of the most expensive costumes the theatre owns is a £3,000 polar bear, which they used in the Snow Queen production a few seasons ago.
Richard says: ‘It’s an incredible costume.
‘The company that made all the animatronics for Disney’s Narnia films created it.
‘We have used him for a couple of productions but can’t see that we would use him again in the future.
‘He’s going to go for £1,000.’
The head of the polar bear is based on a real skull. But its uncanny likeness to the real thing led to an issue at customs when it arrived from Hollywood.
‘It got stuck because customs thought it was real’, he laughs.
‘One of our volunteers had to go down to Southampton and explain. The way she proved it wasn’t real was through the teeth,’ laughs Richard, tapping the head’s plastic gnashers.
Ahead of the sale, volunteers are busy collating information on the history of each costume so the buyer knows which show it was used in and where it came from.
And the person who purchases the stunning ivory and gold lace evening dress, pictured top left, will learn that it was used in the BBC’s Titanic series.
‘It’s also been used in My Fair Lady, An Ideal Husband and our own Titanic production,’ says Richard proudly.
‘It will go for about £80. If you bought that anywhere else, it would be at least double that. It’s the material and the craftsmanship that makes it valuable.’
Richard’s connection to Star Wars – where he acted as the movement reference for Poggle The Lesser and Clone Troopers – has naturally led to him owning a Jar Jar Binks costume, a character from Star Wars.
‘My friend knew I didn’t like the character so much so he bought me it. We haven’t used it so it will be up for sale,’ he laughs.
The theatre is looking forward to its fundraising clear-out but Richard admits: ‘The actors and I feel very sentimental towards the costumes so we have never done a sale on this scale before. But we have to let things go and let those objects create happy memories for other people, instead of being stuck up in a loft not seeing the light of day.’
The theatrical sale will be at Groundlings Theatre, Portsea, August 17 from 2-5pm.