Five on Friday: Ladies in Black

I recently had a behind-the-scenes tour of Queensland Theatre’s wardrobe department where I met costume supervisor Nathalie Ryner and cutters and costumiers, Michelle Wiki and Leigh Buchanan.

Although the team were putting the final touches on the wardrobe for the critically acclaimed Ladies in Black which returns to Brisbane on 28 January, I grabbed a few minutes with Nathalie to get the low down on how they brought this frock fest to life.

In a nutshell, what does your job entail?
As the costume supervisor, I sit directly under our designer and manage the production of the designs, from buying and staffing to quality control. I effectively manage the aesthetics of the designs and I’ve been working to pull the wardrobe together to send down to Sydney for the first stop of the national tour.

How much work was involved in putting together the costumes and wardrobe for Ladies in Black?
We used as many pieces as possible from last year’s original production, but with four new actors, we had to make a few new costumes and swap some between characters. We also knew that some of the vintage pieces we used last time wouldn’t survive the four-month tour so we set about replicating those pieces.

We also try to repurpose and reuse a lot of pieces from our extensive in-house wardrobe and ready-made high street pieces which we rework; from adding a few vintage buttons to restyling a lapel for a more authentic feel. We’ve even repurposed a number of wedding gowns from Brisbane designer Brad Webb (Darb).

Let’s talk numbers, how many costumes are featured in the production? 
We have 58 full outfits, which could be anything from a three-piece suit to a dress or a skirt and jacket, along with 14 cocktails frocks and two racks of 1950s dresses. There’s also seven prop gowns and more than 200 pairs of stockings, although they won’t last the season. When it comes to accessories, there are about 15 hats and everyone except Sarah (in the role of Lisa) wear wigs. We also have 57 pairs of shoes.

Do you have a favourite costume in the show?
I’m quite partial to the character Lisa’s day frocks which really encapsulate the late 50s, especially her blue linen dress and her grey checked dress. Also, Madeleine Jones, in the role of Patty, has a black tailored skirt suit which I really like. I’m a 40s girl so that really appeals to me; I love the simpler garments because they have such beautiful detailing.

What does backstage look like during a performance?
There are some really quick backstage changes – including wig changes – but with a team like the one we have, it’s not too bad, even in such limited space.

How do you keep the costumes clean and smelling fresh with more than 100 shows during an Australian summer?
We do spot cleaning and also have things dry cleaned as needed but we also use sweat pads and a vodka spray which is 1 part vodka to 2 parts water. It will kill any germs and bacteria on the clothes while smelling much better than Febreze.

Ladies in Black is also playing at The Star Sydney (until 22 January), Melbourne Regent Theatre (25 Feb to 18 March) and Canberra Theatre Centre (27 March to 2 April).

I have a double pass to giveaway to see Ladies in Black at QPAC Playhouse at 7.30pm on Wednesday 1 February.  To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post and tell me:

Which actor plays the role of Patty in the new national tour of Ladies in Black? (Hint: The answer is in one of Nathalie’s answers)

Please note: This is a game of chance. Please make sure you include your email address when filling in the commenting system so that you are eligible to enter and I can contact you. This prize is not able to be exchanged for cash. The giveaway is open to all Australian residents. It commences on Friday 13 January 2017 and closes at 6pm (Qld) time on Friday 20 January 2017. The winner will be decided on Saturday 21 January 2017 and contacted via email. If the winner does not respond within 48 hours to my email, another winner will be chosen. By entering this competition, entrants accept that I will email the winner with the email provided and publish their name on this blog post. Good luck!


  1. Dominique Gardiner

    I would love to see this now I’ve read your blog ! I can’t wait to see the fabulous costumes. Both my grandmothers were seamstresses and I’ll appreciate the work in th costumes .Madeleine Jones Plays Patty


  2. Kaylie Smith

    Madeline Jones!

    I love this article, thank you. Behind the scenes of with a costumer is just so interesting.

    Nathalie’s vodka spray is going to get a workout at our place!


  3. Alison May

    Patty is played by Madeleine Jones. I’m just discovering love of vintage dress styles, and I’d love to sew myself a gorgeous vintage dress to wear to this amazing show!


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