Designing Nicholas Nickleby with BOVTS' Alana Ashley

7 Jun 2019

Alana Ashley, Costume Designer for Nicholas Nickleby, is a graduating MA Theatre Design student from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. 

Prior to joining the School, Alana worked in the field of makeup and prosthetics for theatre and television, alongside designing venues, making props and dressing sets for a range of arts and culture festivals. Here, she discusses her vision for Nicholas Nickleby, and how this has been realised for the stage. 

Where did you start with the costume design for Nicholas Nickleby?

After preliminary discussions with the directors and set designer (Oscar Selfridge), we quickly established that we weren’t going to do a historically accurate production. This gave me the freedom and opportunity for greater self-expression. I researched the period thoroughly, as I intended to keep some strong elements of the 1840s silhouette - I got excited about mixing it up a bit with slightly different cuts, fabrics and styles.

What can the audience expect from your design?

By combining period and contemporary elements, I wanted to create a more modern and stylised look, with hints of a slightly alternative Victorian past. Working closely with Oscar, we were interested to achieve a certain level of decay within the design, so textured fabric and colour ombre are used throughout. I’ve aimed to help the audience navigate all the characters, while keeping the costume changes minimal and effective, using different colour palettes and various fabrics to help establish different classes, groups and families.

What have been the most challenging aspects of the design process? 

As my first professional costume design, the most challenging aspects of the design process has been the sheer scale of the production. With a large cast of 26, all playing multiple roles, keeping track of all the requirements of the text and rehearsal process has been a challenge which required an organised approach. Working closely with the directors has been essential. Keeping consistency of language throughout the costume scheme has also been important. Luckily I have an excellent pair of costume supervisors and costume department who could see and understand my vision.

What's it like designing for a 250-year-old theatre?

It has been such a privilege to design for the Bristol Old Vic. Being Bristol based, I have seen many productions on this stage and I am totally blown away that my designs will be up there too.

Alana’s designs, and those of the other graduating Theatre Design, Scenic Art and Costume students from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School can be seen at the Generate Exhibition, held at the Royal West England Academy (RWA), Fri 28 Jun – Thu 4 Jul. The exhibition is free to visit.

Based on Dickens' iconic classic, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School return 14 - 22 Jun with David Edgar's The Life and Times of Nicholas Nickleby - In two parts. To find out more and to book tickets, click here.