A performance film by Cramped Coffin Theatre Company
“It will still be me. But just a different version of me. A changed, twisted version of me. A warped funhouse mirror version of me. I will be changed. Not by clothing, not by the colour of my hair. But by the DNA that binds me together."
Cramped Coffin Theatre is a collaboration between myself and Touring Theatre student Nicola Lawton, as a way of combining our very different theatre professions and common love for all things literary and macabre. We have not only collaborated in the creation of the company’s debut performance, but in co-founding the theatre company itself, with many more productions slated for future releases.
‘Melusine’ is a classic French folktale with Cramped Coffin’s signature macabre twist. As told by the titular character from her solitary bathroom, our performance film aims to tell her story by making our half-serpentine heroine a little more human and having her tell it herself.
Most of this project was centred around discussing the performance as collaborators, and making joint decisions about the content, visuals and characterisation. My designs would have to work in tandem with Nicola’s ideas and portrayal of the character, and the style of performance film, which incorporates both theatre and film techniques in its visuals. I would also have to bear special attention to accommodating the technicalities of the performance, and making the dress comfortable to perform in from awkward positions.
After much concept discussion, I was tasked with creating the decrepit ball gown of the fallen serpent lady. A garment that would hint at her noble and illustrious past but show the wear and tear of her sad story and eventual retreat into obscurity. We agreed that Melusine’s main costume should symbolise her ties to water and her almost magpie-like ways of holding on to her past.
I made designs focussing on deep sea and shipwreck themes and colours, with hints of romantic medieval interpretations and references to 1860’s fashion, though rooted firmly in fantasy. The designs focussed on the idea of large, voluminous skirts and sleeves that would overflow like cascades of water when Melusine sat in her bath, and corsetry, which gives a fine, structured element to her dress (much like a shipwreck surrounded by ocean wildlife) and emphasises the sheer size of the skirts.
Despite having to work around COVID-19 restrictions during the creative process, I am incredibly proud of the final results and look forward to seeing them in the final film, when it is expected to release around October. Collaborating with Nicola has been an incredible experience and an exciting way to bring our work together to create something wonderful. The future of Cramped Coffin is exciting and full, and I look forward to the things that we create in the future.
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