Where once there were just a couple of 7ft mummies, there is now even more weirdness. There is currently a wooden alligator (or crocodile, the jury’s out) living under my coffee table. Let me rewind a tad and fill you in.
There has been much in the way of organising and arranging various quirky oddities for Irma Vep. As I may or may not have mentioned, there are many literary and film references within the play, with the majority of films alluded to either being Hitchcock or of that ilk, or B-movies. So Jak and I have decided to draw heavily on that influence for our set and costumes, and as such we’ve designed everything to be entirely in shades of grey like a black & white movie (apart from a brief sojourn into Glorious Technicolor in act 2).
We also want everything, in a nod to all things gothic horror, to be slightly sinister. The man of the house is an Egyptologist and one of life’s globetrotters, so we want his drawing room to be full of souvenirs from his travels, but all of them need to be just a little bit menacing.
This, we are certain, is a marvellous idea – clever, witty, a little bit unusual, even if we do say so ourselves. What we hadn’t thought about was how tricky it was going to be to dress the set and find props that are suitably disquieting whilst only being black, white or grey in colour. As such, most of the bits and pieces we have found, we are having to paint, and anything we can’t find, we are having to make.
This is fine, it’s fun and interesting and it’s stretching my creative capabilities, but it means that our houses are full of peculiar items and in my case, a ‘craft corner’ overflowing with pots of paint and bags of ripped newspaper, and a fridge filled with tinfoil-wrapped crockery containing various shades of grey paint, a tub of wallpaper paste and a large lump of clay. Not a lot of room for food. I will tell you about my various crafting exploits shortly, but first to explain Gregory, the crocodator (or alligile if you prefer).
It all started when we were trying to find a wolf. All we wanted was a stuffed grey wolf. A simple ask, or so we thought, but it turns out they’re rather like hen’s teeth. Between us we have tried taxidermists, prop hire companies all around the UK, various museums, the National Theatre props store, and I even spent a useful half hour on the phone with the props mistress at the Drama Centre, but all to no avail. Even a trawl around the wonderful junk (treasure) shops of Hastings came to nought. The hardened treaure-traders of the town all sucked air through their teeth, hunched their shoulders and shook their heads in the manner of a man looking, with some pleasure, at another chap’s kaput car engine. No words were needed, their gestures said it all – ‘you’ll be lucky’.
So we gave up.
And then we saw Gregory. It was love at first sight. We may not have a wolf, we will have to resort to our Plan B, which is funny, possibly funnier, but still not our Plan A, but we do have an alligile. With a little bit of wood stain and TLC he will make a marvellous footrest for the man of the house – jaws yawning in a threatening manner.
Another set dressing idea is to have many masks hanging on the walls, from around the world – African, Asian, Hindu, Native American, they’re all there – but again, none will be overly friendly in appearance. Obviously there was no way that we were going to be able to buy any of these so I am making them out of papier mâché and clay. I have several in various stages of completion on my dining table, and these are another two that I’ve completed already. Don’t laugh at my painting skills, I am not one of life’s painters – just remember, no-one’s going to get close enough to examine the minutiae!
Another thing I’ve had to make is a hat – out of a net curtain. We have decided to style one of the characters as something of a Miss Havisham - bitter, bridal and a little bit dusty. Her dress is being made by our costumier, but the hat fell to us. It needed a veil, hence the net curtain. For a while, it did indeed look like a hat with a net curtain stuck to the front, so I pulled everything apart, cut everything up with scissors in a brutal, no-nonsense, irreversible fashion, and started from scratch. Here is the hat. Again, in the same way that I am not a painter, I am not a milliner, but it should serve its purpose.
The most recent task Jak and I have undertaken is some publicity photos for the next theatre What’s On magazine. I have to write about the play but we needed a directors' photo to go alongside the blurb, and we decided that we wanted to hint at the content of the play without giving too much away. So we decided to have our photo taken in a Hitchcock style – black and white with lots of shadow. And to keep it as tongue-in-cheek as possible, we borrowed a couple of fur coats from the costume department, slapped on some 1930s make-up and got a fellow actress and hairdresser to style our hair. Mousse + hot rollers + hairspray = hair helmet. Here is the finished result!
So there you have it, that’s the latest in the Irma Vep Land. Next thing is to finalise the artwork for the poster and programme, but that’s next week. This weekend, between making masks, I shall mostly be painting my kitchen, just for something different to do!
On a non-theatre note, I have written some more stories and have three out in the world at the moment – one with Woman’s Weekly, one with The Weekly News and one with a competition.
And I have finally got Hearts & Finds on Etsy up and running and have also got some of my products in the gift shop I work in too, which is most exciting! And I’ve sold some – which is even more exciting!