But because we’ve worked with each other so much it often doesn’t require much more than that initial conversation to allow the design to spring into life with clarity. Sometimes that conversation starts with identifying the biggest challenge the play holds. On Dream, I remember a long time before we started rehearsals, a year out, one of Babs’ responses was that cracking the faeries was going to be a big challenge.
Alice Babidge: And as a reason to not to do the play! Putting a fairy on stage is just the most daunting task - for a director, for an actor and to costume. If you’re trying to say anything that isn’t wings and Tinkerbel and some kind of great version of fantasy that I adore but isn’t the kind of theatre that I want to make. It’s really difficult.
Matthew Drummond: Yet the fairies were among the most memorable costumes from the show. There seemed to be a bit of Walter Van Beirendonck inspiration behind them?
AB: Yeah and a lot of Polly Borland. We had to work out how we’d do the faeries. And I did say once we’ve cracked the faeries everything else will fall into place.
MD: How did you crack them?
AB: I remember there was a picture in this office when it was Andrew and Cate’s office [former co-artistic directors Andrew Upton and Cate Blanchett], which I loved. It was a Polly Borland photograph and in passing I said to Kip; ‘the fairies are all going to be Polly Borland and that’s the only way to do it and I think we’re just going to do that.’
MD: What were you doing by deciding that?
AB: I was finding an aesthetic. And I was finding a way to make a creature that didn’t feel like dress up. That felt human and recognisable to us but still felt foreign, and unnerving enough to be other-worldy.
KW: The big challenge of rendering faeries on stage was for them to have any power, supernatural or otherwise, that surpasses the mortal powers of the audience. The answer for us resided in the faeries having an immediate, potent, hyper-sexuality about them that was simultaneously erotic and grotesque. It engendered within them a sense of anarchic abandon that ultimately gave them an authority over the audience. That was the initial springboard from the Borland images, their erotic, other worldly quality.
AB: And often things change. The best costumes are informed by the work that happens in the rehearsal room. It doesn’t matter what my idea is. What matters to me observing, watching everyone work with each other, listening to what they’re saying, talking to the actors. You can put anything on an actor but if they can’t find a way to break the idea down and make it human and make it theirs, then it will never work on stage.
MD: Do you ever have moments of absolute disagreement between each other?
AB: We get combative. And that’s because we both think we’re always right and we deeply believe in the work being the best it can possibly be. If one of us has a point to make, we will keep making it to the other person.
KW: There’s a shared relentlessness in the two of us.
MD: Do you need tension at times to create incredible art?
AB: You need tension.