As West Kirby Light Operatic Society prepares to perform Titanic the Musical, Laura Davis meets the show’s costume designer
WELCOME to the glory hole,” announces costume designer Jean Taylor as she opens the door of her Hoylake home.
“Last time we did the show there were so many hats involved that I had them everywhere – even on top of every lamp.”
Inside, there are costumes hanging from the back of doors, laid over a chair and placed across the sofa. In the conservatory there is a wall of hand-sketched designs and a table filled with jewellery, feathers and sparkles.
Even the kitchen is not quite free of theatrical influence – leaning against the tiles is a board of fabric swatches, labelled “second class boarding”.
Jean has designed all costumes for the 97-strong cast, including 12 children, of West Kirby Light Operatic Society’s show Titanic the Musical, which opens at the Liverpool Empire next week.
In total there are 500-600 individual pieces, including wigs, hats, shoes, dresses and suits, which will all help take the audience back to 1912 – the year the ocean liner hit an iceberg and sank beneath the waves.
Determined that her designs would be historically accurate, Jean carefully researched the period – reading fashion books and clothing catalogues of the time.
“The musical is all about the three different classes and their ambitions and the differences in their lifestyles,” she says.
“That has to be reflected in the costumes. The audience needs to know each character’s background just by looking at them and seeing what they are wearing.”
Working on a limited budget has been a challenge, says Jean, who has spent months scouring fabric shops in the North West and North Wales for suitable material.
“I’ve been scrounging everybody’s wedding hats for the last 18 months and then recovering them,” she adds.
Some of the third class passengers’ costumes are reworked charity shop finds.
Jean, who ran a ladies clothing boutique in Hoylake until her retirement last year, has used upholstery fabric in place of the heavy material that the rich would have worn.
“When the first class passengers come out I want the audience to go ‘wow!’,” she says.
“They would have gone to fashion houses in Paris to get the latest outfits so they have to really dazzle.”
As well as designing the costumes, which have been made by students of Liverpool Community College, Jean is playing the role of a first class passenger.
She first became involved in making costumes while singing in the Liverpool Grand Opera Company.
“The costumes would come in from London and often they wouldn’t fit us so many times I’d be sitting adjusting them or making new ones the night before the show,” she recalls.
It was a friend who introduced Jean to singing opera – persuading her to attend an amateur production of La Traviata.
“I went along never dreaming in a minute that I would ever be singing that role myself, “ she says.
“The next thing I knew I was doing a concert and I was given a solo. I’ve never been more nervous in my life.”
TITANIC the Musical is at the Liverpool Empire from June 5-9.