Part of the fun of acting and appearing in a show such as A Christmas Carol is the costume. You’d already forgotten the time a few weeks back when the costume designer measured you in meticulous detail (“You can stop sucking in your stomach, Julian: if you do, the costume won’t fit.”), when suddenly you have the magical moment when you have your first costume fitting.
Well, in general it doesn’t. Sometimes you, the actor, have put on weight, or, better — healthier, maybe — you lost some. In my case, possibly more the former than the latter. More often than not, the costume designer has a small catwalk collection of clothes for you to try on, to see how they all look together.
This time around, as the Ghost of Christmas Present, the costume was designed not to fit. It was designed to be put on me, for me to be clothed in it, yes, but under no circumstances should you assume the word “fit” had anything to do with it.
You see, the Ghost of Christmas Present is, in Dickens’ own words: “a jolly Giant, glorious to see” and it “was clothed in one simple green robe, or mantle, bordered with white fur. This garment hung so loosely on the figure, that its capacious breast was bare, as if disdaining to be warded or concealed by any artifice. Its feet, observable beneath the ample folds of the garment, were also bare; and on its head it wore no other covering than a holly wreath, set here and there with shining icicles. Its dark brown curls were long and free; free as its genial face, its sparkling eye, its open hand, its cheery voice, its unconstrained demeanour, and its joyful air.”
A giant, eh? Or, rather, a Giant with a capital G, underlining the bulk and height. Somehow my six foot frame wasn’t going to suffice. Enter stage left a pair of dry-waller stilts to raise my height two feet. Enter stage right, various garments with padding to add that extra bulk. And finally, oh so finally, the huge glorious green robe made to fit over all the padding and
reaching to the floor covering the stilts.
The first time it took me and the costumers a good ten to fifteen minutes to get it all on. I put the padding on (three layers, note), and then sat up on the table to put the stilts on. Duh, wrong way round: I couldn’t reach the straps of the stilts for all the padding. So I sat there like Humpty Dumpty while the costumers strapped my legs in. Then the fun part: this huge heavy
green robe. Up over my head, pushing my arms into the sleeves. Then I had to stand — oops, watch the light shade! — so that the material in the robe fell around me to the ground. One of the costumers stood on a step ladder to zip me up.
And then… Lots of standing, very wobblily. I braced myself with my hands on the ceiling. Lots of fiddling around, pushing the padding hither and thither, trying to get a good look. Of course, the only way to do that was for the costumer to slip underneath the robe and manhandle the padding garments; a sensation I can’t say I’ll ever forget.
In the end, the costume worked and looks extremely good (and I even tried walking around a bit in it: very weird) but there were the inevitable bits to let out or tuck in, so there’ll be more costume fitting in a few days.
The Ghost of Christmas Present (aka Julian M Bucknall)