Arcadia makes sure that costume and character work togetherPaul Ashley with permission for Varsity

I am sat with Mia Glencrose, who’s just finished playing Bernard in last week’s ADC main show – Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. For those of you who didn’t manage to catch a glimpse of Bernard, the show’s resident sleaze and Byron enthusiast, the director Stan Hunt sums him up as “a bit of a twat”. His costume includes some more generic hallmarks of the male academic: dress trousers, belt, overflowing satchel and shirt and tie, though “the tie”, Mia gleefully tells me, “is this amazingly ugly pattern”.

“The joy in playing Bernard, it seems, is that he’s supposed to be ever so slightly repulsive”

The joy in playing Bernard, it seems, is that he’s supposed to be ever so slightly repulsive. Mia explains that before each new scene, they would splash their armpits with water so that Bernard is “sweatier and sweatier as the play goes on”. Bernard’s lilac shirt (I’m told white wouldn’t have been camp enough) does some serious work in Act Two, allowing for “sweaty armpit moments” that align with his moments of bad behaviour.

Bernard's sweaty armpits represented his bad behaviourPaul Ashley with permission for Varsity

The end of the play, when (spoiler alert) a very dishevelled Bernard arrives on stage after doing “something he shouldn’t”, is where character and costume interact the most. Mia says that each night they toyed with how far to take Bernard’s state of disarray. “If I had the choice,” they tell me emphatically, “I would have come on with my trousers off à la Julian from Ghosts”. In the absence of a partial nudity warning, Mia did the buttons on Bernard’s shirt up in the wrong order, turned out his trouser pockets and improvised some messed-up hair. “I rolled the trousers up to the knee,” she tells me, “I don’t know why.”

“If I had the choice,” they tell me emphatically, “I would have come on with my trousers off à la Julian from Ghosts”

Mia was able, however, to imbue the character with some of their own gender non-conforming identity. Bernard wore Mia’s shoes, a pair of platform Dr. Martens, a category of footwear that has become ‘queer-coded’ in recent decades. The shoes’ heels and noisiness nevertheless made for great comedy in the context of the performance. Bernard could stomp around while still being appropriately “one of the shortest people on stage”. The long skirts Mia normally wears made rehearsing as Bernard difficult. One of Stan’s directions was that Bernard “leads from the pelvis”, a feat much easier to achieve with available belt loops that allowed for cowboy-esque shooting finger guns. Mia tells me they reserved this particular move for “whenever he makes a good point”, or rather, “whenever he thinks he’s made a good point,” Mia adds, correcting herself, “because he never does.”

Becoming a character through costume is freeing for an actorPaul Ashley with permission for Varsity

As is standard for a week one main show, Mia got her costume the day before opening night. They describe the moment of looking at Bernard in the mirror for the first time as “freeing”. As a size 14-16 (the UK average), they say it can feel expected to have clear skin, matching jewellery, good makeup and a nice outfit to “offset or … draw away attention from” the way you look. “There is a sort of social pressure”, Mia tells me, “to look more put-together than maybe some of your thin friends”. But the slimy, sweaty Bernard, so different from the Mia I know in real life, was allowed to look however the character needed to – messy and at times outright “disgusting”. Bernard, no doubt against his will, might just have become a feminist icon for the actor inhabiting him. Trying on their costume, Mia remembers thinking, “I look awful. This is great!”


Mountain View

Arcadia is far from chaotic

As we make our way back to the Seeley, with Mia carrying her criminally iced coffee (“In February?” I ask), I decided that we could probably all learn something from Bernard – and it has nothing to do with Byron. You don’t have to star in an ADC main show or be a character in a Tom Stoppard sell-out to not care about the way you look. It honestly does not matter if you glance in the English Faculty toilet mirror and realise you’re wearing completely clashing patterns with your hair resembling a bird’s nesting ground. We all have off days. Everyone’s experienced the agony of a poorly-timed hair wash, where you now have to suffer the day with greasy hair yearning for the moment when you can get home and lather your scalp with shampoo. You can’t control it, but you can choose not to let it bother you. If Mia’s account of costuming Bernard is anything to go by, it might even be fun.