Tessa Waugh meets Alan Smith, head of costume props, footwear and armoury at the RSC. Photographs by Richard Cannon.
Alan Smith, head of costume props, footwear and armoury at the RSC, has lost count of the number of Macbeths he’s worked on since 1989, when he joined the company. This year, he’s made a ceremonial belt for Christopher Eccleston in the role (until September 18 at Stratford and then from October 15 at the Barbican in London). Variety, however, is the essence of Mr Smith’s job. ‘I’m responsible for costume props such as Captain Hook’s hook, paddings and fat suits, as well as belts, sword belts, baldrics and, on the armoury side, swords, daggers, shields and firearms,’ he says.
The challenge is executing the designer’s vision. ‘They come to me with a problem and I have to solve it,’ Mr Smith explains. ‘Once I’ve worked it out, there’s that amazing feeling of opening a present on Christmas morning.’ This was particularly true of a pair of wings for Tinker Bell. ‘I made them, then, at the fitting, the actress told me she had to roll on her back. It was back to the drawing board to reverse-engineer the wings, so that they folded over when she lay down,’ he recalls. ‘Challenges arise, but that’s the nature of theatre.’
A whole array of materials is deployed to conjure the right effect: ‘We once used a lot of fibreglass to make the armour, but, now, we tend to use more leather and plastic. We’ve even used John Lewis window blinds and rush table mats.’
Having learned his skills on the job, Mr Smith likes to take things apart and work with his hands. ‘I don’t consider myself to be artistic – I think of myself as a problem solver with a bit of artistry chucked in,’ he elaborates.
The RSC is fundraising to support the redevelopment of its costume warehouse (www.rsc.org.uk/stitch-in-time)
Ian Shearman's team of glassblowers are still making glass using a technique that's 2,000 years old. Mary Miers found out
Boon & Lane supplies bespoke wooden and cast-aluminium hat blocks to leading milliners.
Tessa Waugh meets Cluny Lace, the only company flying the flag for British lace.