How we created the Oliver! look

17 Jan 2024


The sensational Oliver! you see on stage is the result of months of intricate work by many people – working hard to cut, sew, iron, steam, pleat and thread the beautiful costumes that create the final dazzling picture.

In an exclusive look, the Playhouse Costume department gave us access to some of the intricate attire created for Oliver! currently wowing audiences and critics alike on the Quarry stage.

Head of Costume Victoria Marzetti, Head Cutter and Workroom Manager Julie Ashworth, Costume Assistant Abbie Slack and Costume Making Trainee – Regional Theatre Technical Apprenticeship funded by The Mackintosh Foundation – Josh Cartmell helped us to delve a little deeper into the costumes designed by Set and Costume Designer Colin Richmond.

“The world Dickens describes is so visceral, real and timeless; you feel things really haven’t changed. I hope we have achieved something of that world; something that feels familiar and also poetic. I was very much inspired by Dickens’ writing,” said Colin.

“I think a lot of people of my generation first experienced the show at school, maybe as a performer in a school play, so to actually get to design it feels a privilege. It’s a wonderful musical and, when you delve further into it, it only gets better.”  

10 fascinating facts about the costumes in Oliver!

  1. The original fabric for Fagin’s long blue coat and the costumes created for the young company worn in the Workhouse, including the three Olivers, was a cream linen that was dyed on site at the Playhouse. It was roughly 100 metres long and was bought from B&M Fabrics, based just over the road at Kirkgate Market. It was chosen because it was a heavy weighted linen that could be broken down to create a Victorian feel.
  2. 58 people need costumes in the show. With understudies and multiples for characters where more than one actor performs the role, that equates to around 160 costumes.
  3. The most complex costume is Fagin’s. It consists of a heavy top-coat, two waistcoats, a shirt, trousers and accessories such as glasses, a neck tie and hat.
  4. The heaviest piece of costume is Mr Bumble’s grey linen coat. It includes 12 metres of outer fabric and 12 metres of lining. The actor – Minal Patel – is 6ft 5, so he needs a lot of coat!
  5. 19 people have worked on the costumes, including a tailor, milliner, breaking down artist, cutters and the in-house team of cutters, and costume assistants.
  6. Nancy’s bodice has been on quite a journey! When the Costume team first discovered the fabric it had been made into a bag in a shop called the Cloth House in Camden. They discovered, however, that it had started life as a sari before being transformed into a Kantha blanket (hand quilted – kantha is the name of the stitch), and then, later down the line, into a bag. It was perfect for Nancy’s corset because, while undoubtedly beautiful, it was already worn in and showed signs of wear and character.
  7. Fagin’s shirt is made of hand block printed fabric, which achieves an eye-catching imperfect pattern (we’re not interested in perfect).
  8. Minus four costumes (Mrs Bedwin, one of Oliver Twist’s changes, Mr Brownlow and the Dr Grimwig), from the coats down to the neckerchiefs, has been hand-painted and broken down (made to look old and worn) in-house. Even the characters’ undershirts, which are not usually visible in the show, have been dyed so they look used and grimy.
  9. The Costume department at the Playhouse is a constant hive of activity – and their word doesn’t end on opening night. Once the shows opens, it’s a constant cycle of washing, mending, re-breaking down (the grime washes out), letting out waistcoats and getting new shoes (for growing children in the young company). On average, they put on up to 6 washes per day.
  10. If you add up all the hours it takes to get ready for a single performance in includes 5 hours of maintenance, cleaning and mending; 4 hours of re-setting by the dressers so the actors know exactly where every piece of costume is; and 3 hours of wigs. That’s 12 hours of work to get the costumes prepped ahead of the beginners call. Every day!


Up close with the Oliver! costume


    Arts Council
  • Leeds City Council
  • LTB Foundation
  • Principal Partner

    Caddick Group
  • Principal Access Partner

    Irwin Mitchell