Steam Punking up Cornish Victorian

Characters from ‘My Cousin Rachel’ in steampunk costume.

In looking back over our last Season, I realised that all the plays had been costume dramas, taking us from Medieval France, 17th Century London, the 1930s, to the 1950s. We are very fortunate in having a huge (and packed) costume store which provides most of what we need, with some hectic bouts of sewing to supplement it. When we first looked at My Cousin Rachel, we were unsure where to place it in time. It is written as a Victorian Gothic Thriller, but it could easily have been Edwardian, or 1920s / 30s. Not wanting to have to repeat the sweat shop conditions that churned out the many, many Playhouse Creature costumes, the temptation was to see what fitted, and set it in that era. Cheating I know, but with the costume store used as temporary housing for bits of boiler and lighting moved during the auditorium refurbishment there was no way to get to the clothing rails for the whole of the Summer.

Then, quite by chance, a friend mentioned going over to Hebden Bridge for a Steampunk festival. For those not in the know, Steampunk is a genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery. Think modern day Jules Verne. From this has developed a whole fashion cult which combines Victoriana with anachronistic touches. The Victorian silhouette is turned into something altogether more daring and ‘punky’ with short skirts, corsets worn over clothing, and accessories that feature cogs, wheels, clocks, safety pins etc. etc. This is perfect for us, given that some of our dresses are a little worst for wear, and, invariably, tiny. We now don’t need to spend time adding panels and darning; we can simply deconstruct them and hold them back together with belts and safety pins!

As for the men – they get to accessorise their look with buckles, chains, watches and goggles. Much more fun than regular costumes, when all they get to do is fight over the diminishing store of matching cufflinks. Note to self – must make some Steampunk cufflinks.

We are hoping that the slightly unreal costumes add to the distorted reality of this psychological thriller. We’re not aiming to distract, and so are veering away from the more outlandish creations (and I did so want a lace ra-ra skirt!). But, let me tell you, we are having so much fun! What better way to fill a wet September morning than with a bag of keys and clock faces and a glue gun? Which reminds me, if you’re tempted to release your inner Steampunk creative, or possibly just like ironing – join the drop-in Costume Group on Wednesday mornings in the Green Room between 10am and 12.

‘My Cousin Rachel’ will be performed by the Saddleworth Players at the Millgate Arts Centre from 28 September to 5 October. Tickets are available online from our booking site or from the box office at Delph Library (Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm). The box office telephone number is 01457 874644.

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