Rachel in the ADC costume roomRachel Kelly with permission for Varsity

Another day, another play; the ADC is home to two shows a week and is the beating heart of the vibrant theatre community at our beloved University of Cambridge. However, behind every spotlight and star on the stage, there lies a team of student technicians, musicians and costume designers that work behind the scenes to create artistic masterpieces. The Fashion team set out to explore this secret life of Cambridge costume designers and finds out how productions really come to life. We spoke to Rachel Kelly, the Amadeus (ADC week three main show) costume designer, to find out more about the costuming process.

Rachel Kelly's desk, notice the Land Law textbook, left hand corner. Rachel Kelly with permission for Varsity

Rachel Kelly is “pretty new to the ADC” but, got involved with theatre at school after being encouraged to create sets and costumes by her art teacher: “I already did art and sewed but found that making a costume is more special as the actor is going to remember it forever”. She adds: “I do like clothes, but I don’t think I’m that fashionable of a dresser myself. I’ve always preferred making or choosing for others. I suppose I don’t have a big wardrobe because I like collecting items of clothes I’m going to wear forever.” Kelly’s approach to her own clothes and costuming focuses on being environmentally and budget conscious but also memorable.

Indeed, Kelly’s latest play is no easy feat. Amadeus is both a period drama and has a huge cast. Her first challenge is the volume of costumes, as the cast has 16 people in it: true to her environmentally conscious efforts, Kelly states: “The ADC is nice because they recycle the costume store”. She has used things from past period performances or “clothes people already have that can be altered. We are hiring a few big things; things that we can’t find. There’s a lot of tinkering going on and piecing together”. Kelly is nothing if not resourceful.

However, her second challenge is that the play is set in the 18th century. Kelly states her costumes are “true to the period in their essence and style; they don’t have perfect details, but they fit the vibe of what you’d want from the period”. To me, it sounds exhausting to costume a play set in the Mozart-Era, yet Kelly takes it in her stride stating calmly, “it makes it a more exciting job”. She has had to think outside the box for this show. She says her hardest character to costume is Constanza, Mozart’s Wife, (Thea Melton). “Matching the brief has been complicated. Her costume needs to show that she’s a different social class to Mozart. I’ve ended up using a soft corset-style top, some puff sleeves, and a long, full skirt. Colour and texture are the main contrasts”.

Kelly spends lots of her time with her sewing machine altering clothes, and I can’t help but wonder how she fits it all in, especially as she studies law. Some may say the ADC and a law degree are incompatible. Yet Kelly states, “you have that same sort of self-regulation as any humanity and you’ve got to slap yourself on the wrist to work sometimes.” We all have lots to learn from Kelly who states that you can’t always get everything done so she’s prepared for “Lots of catching up in the holidays”.

Kelly also states she has “two assistants (Yingfei Chen and Olivia Frith-Salem) who are both brilliant and very dedicated to the show. The workload is split in three because it is a large cast and show. We have our little meetings and see what we’ve found. Working in a team helps with balancing the workload.”

Finally, I ask Kelly, if she had to give herself advice before starting this show, what would she say? Kelly laughs: “Start on a smaller show. I’m lucky that I have such an amazing team; they’re well organised and we work well together. I could never have done this without such good people. Also, early preparation is key. It’s been a couple of stressful weeks sourcing all the clothes. Now it’s all fine but I wish I sorted everything earlier, but I guess I’ll bring this wisdom into my next show.”

We will most definitely see more of Kelly’s wonderful work in the theatre this term, perhaps even in the Footlights Pantomime. But for now, get your ticket for, Amadeus.

Amadeus plays at the ADC from 25th-29th October.