Approaches to the written paper


Costume is a key element in any play and you will need to understand how costume enhances both the character and the play's interpretation.

Exam Question

Look at this typical exam question about costume.

Shelter is a character from the play StoneCold but you can use the information to answer on characters from your chosen play.

Look at scene 11

Describe a suitable costume for the actor playing Shelter in this section. In your answer refer to the period, garments, colour and how costume choice, hair and make-up would emphasise elements of character.

Sample answers

Now read the following two answers to the question above - which do you think is better?

Answer one

The period of the play is the 21st century. Shelter would wear a coat and trousers and the colours would be dull. He wouldn't wear make-up because he is a man. His hair would be short. Shelter would look neat and tidy.

Answer two

I would set my production of Stone Cold in 2010 and Shelter's costume would reflect this period. In this scene Shelter is going out to try to catch a victim but he must not appear obvious. I would dress the character in a smart black coat; he would also wear a white shirt and black trousers with a sharp crease down the front. His shoes would be highly polished. This detail would highlight his army background. He would also wear a grey scarf. The colours I have chosen emphasise his dark nature and would make him appear like a shadow as he hunts for his victims. Shelter's hair would be short and neat and, once again, emphasise his army background. The character would look clean shaven and I would use make-up to give the character a healthy complexion because I think he would try to keep fit because he is a man of strict regimes. The most important thing about the character's costume is that he must look smart and like an upright citizen - someone you could trust but not a mass murderer.

Examiner's view

Which answer do you think scored the highest marks? Although answer one covers all the criteria, it is vague and lacks detail. Answer two shows a detailed knowledge of the character, his function in the play and any costume designer would be able to follow this advice.

Dos and Don'ts to remember when answering the costume question:

  • Do be specific about the period when the play was set. Give an actual year if possible.
  • Don't use vague terms like twentieth century. Remember - that covers 100 years!
  • Don't be afraid to bring certain plays like Crash,Sparkleshark and Stone Cold up to date. Other plays like Death of a Salesman need to be set when they were written. Other plays like Dr Korczak's Example can be set in a specific period (1942) or the actors could wear all black with certain items to suggest character.
  • Do be specific when suggesting colour. Remember - bright or dark colours don't give the examiner very much information.
  • Do show you understand a character by suggesting small details eg Shelter's highly polished shoes, Uncle Ben in Death of a Salesman could wear diamond cufflinks to show his wealth and his involvement in the diamond trade. Little details like this show the examiner that you really understand the play and the character.
  • Don't be afraid to experiment with make-up, always think of some detail eg Jake from the play Sparkleshark could have a bruise on his face to indicate he is bullied, Adzio in Dr Korczak's Example could have a pale complexion to indicate his poor lifestyle.
  • Do give some reasons why you have chosen a specific costume and what it would tell the audience about the character.

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