Ritianne Mallia Tabone is currently working on the designs for Teatru Manoel and the MADC’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest, and she sat down with indulge for a few minutes to tell us about designing costumes for such a beloved play.
First of all, please introduce yourself.
Pharmacist by day, devourer of costume dramas and books by night. A list-maker, compulsive problem solver, an introvert and a dog owner, and it has been 23 days since I last purchased a bolt of fabric…
When did you take up costume design and what inspired you to do so?
First and foremost I am the audience. If something is not quite done right, for the storyline, or character on stage or TV, it bugs me. So I try to imagine how I’d fix it. That’s what got me in costume design, the idealised version of what would be enjoyable for me as an audience member. Theatre, contrary to TV, does not change shot every few seconds, and the eye is thus free to wander and enjoy the visual feast, whilst you are listening to the dialogue. I love how the colour combinations, fabrics, style, and the restrictions and freedom of different costumes tell a story about the characters, and it’s not the first time that an abysmal plot was made bearable by the eye fodder that a good costume can provide.
I started by helping out my good friend and actress – now writer – Laura Bonnici, who asked me to help her out as wardrobe mistress for a Christmas panto four years ago. Since then I’ve done some MADC summer Shakespeares, and I’ve worked with Unifaun Productions and more.
Is there any particular genre/period you prefer to design for?
When designing costumes, historical realism is my favourite genre, most especially the corset years and the Belle Epoque, Victorian and Edwardian, so the Importance of Being earnest is EXACTLY what I love
I imagined Lady Bracknell’s costume the MOMENT I saw a post about auditions, even before knowing I would be approached for this. Any excuse to force people to wear hats is valid in my book…
When undertaking designs for a theatrical production such as The Importance of Being Earnest, what is your starting point and what are the biggest challenges?
I am an autodidact, so my starting point is methodical research: costume museums, historical fashion plates, passport photos and identification photos from the era… Next: the script, plot character story arc. After that: the context of the time period the author lived in. I love Oscar Wilde and it’s my love for his writings that made me jump at this opportunity. Discussing mood boards and colour scheme and design with the director is vital, and then I convert my idealised vision into budget-friendly results.
The biggest challenges in designing costumes are balancing authenticity with stage-friendly and budget-friendly designs. Malcolm Galea, the play’s director, knows his audience, and he wanted the modern eye to recognise the hint of period costume while at the same time, attract a younger audience, without labelling this timeless play as something just for the parents. Actors are craftspeople in delivering emotions, and my challenge is to make them as comfortable as possible in their characters, down to handmade hats, antique accessories, replica jewellery. Sourcing bona fide craftsmen in tailoring and sewing is also a joy and a challenge locally, given the funding.
And finally, what is your favourite indulgence?
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde is produced by Teatru Manoel and the MADC. It stars Davide Tucci, Edward Caruana Galizia, Maxine Aquilina, Michela Farrugia, Marylu Coppini, Isabel Warrington, Michael Mangion, Martin Azzopardi and Edward Thorpe and is directed by Malcolm Galea. It will be performed at Teatru Manoel on 31 January, and 1, 2, 7, 8, and 9 February 2020. Bookings on 2124 6389 or via www.teatrumanoel.mt. Classification 12+.