Tag Archives: costume design

‘Cosy’ Costume design and playwriting…. Holly McCarthy and Kaite O’Reilly

Poster Cosy

I’ve always been a ‘word’ person. Despite my greatest efforts, I’ve never been able to draw or design anything except a perplexing mess.

As a playwright, I create characters from words. I don’t create an image of a character in my mind except only in the broadest sense – a child; a woman of a certain age – the idiosyncratic detail when everything else image-wise is a blur. I don’t know what my characters ‘look’ like. I know them by what they say and do. I seldom plan a character in advance, but am constantly surprised by what the characters say to each other once I get them together in a specific location. Given the particular way I work, it was a revelation to be shown these costume designs by Holly McCarthy for my forthcoming production of ‘Cosy’ at Wales Millennium Centre.

'Cosy' costume design by Holly McCarthy

‘Cosy’ costume design by Holly McCarthy

Somehow – and this is where skill and talent comes in – Holly has read my play and created these clothed human beings – these tangible, recognisable people from the words I put down on a page. The process is nothing short of magical to me. And so it was with extraordinary delight I looked at her designs, sighing in recognition, knowing, like a distant relative you’ve never met but heard about for so long, ‘ah! So that’s what she looks like!’ Although Holly does not provide facial features, everything else in her designs give a clear indication of the individual, and her age, world view, sense of ‘self’.

Costume design for 'Cosy' by Holly McCarthy

Costume design for ‘Cosy’ by Holly McCarthy

The other week at the Welsh Theatre Awards, I sat in the row in front of Holly and was delighted, but not surprised when she was announced the winner of Best Costume Design. It’s fantastic that she’s been costume designer on ‘Cosy’ and I can’t wait what she does next.


A multitude of Frida Kahlos…. writing across mediums


Ying-Hsuan Hsieh at The 9 Fridas photoshoot. Mobius Strip, Taipei.

Ying-Hsuan Hsieh, photo shoot for Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘The 9 Fridas’ Mobius Strip Theatre, Taipei.

‘The 9 Fridas’ is a mosaic, a collage of impressions and stories reflecting the life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954) and the fictional journey of ‘F’ through the 9 Hells of the Mayan Underworld. ‘F’ is accompanied by a chorus of figures who, like her, are and are not Frida Kahlo, but whose stories echo actual events from Kahlo’s life: The betrayed wife, the political activist, the teenager severely disabled in a road accident, the fashion icon, the struggling artist…

Or so my notes in the programme will read when we open in several weeks at the Taipei Arts Festival.

Costume designer YS Lee with Faye Leung and Ying-Hsuan Hsieh, The 9 Fridas

Costume designer YS Lee with Faye Leong and Ying-Hsuan Hsieh, The 9 Fridas

Our rehearsal process continues apace, with a day of shooting the mediatised sections of the production. This gives us a chance to see the aesthetic created by our fabulous costume designer YS Lee, and appreciate the skill of his make-up and hair artists.

This performance script has allowed my imagination full-reign, writing for several mediums. The pre-set is a recorded radio script which will play in the foyer and auditorium before the performance starts. Several sections are filmed, including manipulated Frida puppet dolls, which I watched YS customise, embroidering a monobrow and making Tehuna regional Mexican dress the night before the shoot.

Frida dolls customised by YS Lee, The 9 Fridas

Frida dolls customised by YS Lee, The 9 Fridas

We are beginning to run the full script (or ‘stagger’ as some wag put it last week) , the actors grasping the movement of their journey through the piece. I’m making final edits and our translator, Betty Chen, is making last adjustments to the Mandarin text, which we hope will be published in 2015.

Director Phillip Zarrilli runs an open door policy in rehearsals and there has been a river of academics, actor-trainers, cultural commentators, emerging and established practitioners flowing through the studio. The company and our rehearsal visitors have all said what a gift and luxury it is to have the playwright in the room. Apart from revising the script, I am on call to clarify, to explain and to offer research material – whether anecdote, images, or biographical details. I have been obsessed with Frida Kahlo most of my life – The 9 Fridas is my second project engaging with her work and art – and I have a third on the horizon.


Faye Leung in Mobius Strip offices, The 9 Fridas, Taipei

Faye Leong in Mobius Strip offices, The 9 Fridas, Taipei

But for the present my focus and energies stay with this production with Mobius Strip Theatre Company, which opens 5th September, and is already sold out.