McCaldin Arts is making a new show, Mary's Hand, based on the life and reign of Queen Mary 1st. The show has a cast of one singer and three instrumentalists and is designed to tour to unusual and historic spaces.
Mary's dress is the most important object in the show, serving as costume, set and as a prop for the action. We are making a historically-accurate copy of the specific dress worn by Mary 1st in her portrait painted by Hans Eworth shortly after her coronation in October 1553. The portrait shows Mary in a sumptuous state gown and wearing historic jewels.
If you are a fan of BBC4's fantastic programme A Stitch in Time, you will know how much research goes into working out the structure of a three-dimensional dress from a two-dimensional image. Before even starting on the work of making the garment itself it's helpful to make a toile mock-up to test how the pieces of the dress fit together.
Our costume-designers and makers, Andie and Sophie, have already created the under-garments that give the finished dress its correct form and structure. They are now starting on the outer dress, which is the robe you actually see in the portrait. Painstaking study has revealed the precise brocade pattern on the fabric of the dress, built around the image of a pomegranate, which was the emblem of Katharine of Aragon, mother of Mary 1 (see below left and centre)
We've been testing a combination of stitching and painting on fabric to retain some of the artistic qualities of the portrait as well as building up some of the embroidered textures of the real-life dress. (see above, right). All this work is done by Andie and Sophie, by hand.
Andie also made a useful discovery at the Palace of Westminster.
All the parts of the costume need to be as resilient as possible - in the course of the tour the dress will be removed many times on-stage by the performer as part of the action. It might have been possible to economise, by using off-the-peg forms and printed fabrics, but the finished result would have been less visually successful and less durable - we intend to perform Mary's Hand for years to come!
We also want the costume to be historically accurate, because all the parts of it are seen during the show. Researching and re-creating the whole dress from the portrait is one part of the wider work that was undertaken to ground the creative aspects of Mary's Hand in historical fact, researching Mary's public and personal life as well as the music of her household and private chapel.
The parts of the dress and costume that your donation will help us to complete are these:
- outer layer of Mary's dress including embroidered skirt-panel and sleeves - construction, stitching, painting and beading;
- Mary's shoes - re-modelling, stitching and painting a pair of modern shoes to a Tudor design;
- jewels on the dress - modelling, casting in resin and painting of jewels to embellish the outer dress and sleeves (above far left);
- French hood - Mary's head-covering, edged with jewels (above centre left);
- Mary's own jewellery - in the portrait Mary is wearing three key items which need to be modelled and cast in resin before being painted and finished: the diamond cross which belonged to her mother Katharine of Aragon; the drop-pearl pendant from the collection of Katharine Parr; and, most importantly, the medieval reliquary known as the "tablet de Bourbon" (above centre right) which has been lost since the reign of Elisabeth 1 and is assumed to have been destroyed. In the portrait she is also wearing many rings, including her "espousal ring" which marries her to her Kingdom (above far right).
Background information about Mary's Hand
We know that Mary loved games of chance and in Mary's Hand, Mary plays a game of cards with the audience. The public gets to choose which card is played next, which in turn influences the order in which Mary's story is told. In this way, every performance of Mary's Hand will be different.
The rewards we offer relate to the pack of cards used in the course of the show. The court cards, the Ace of Hearts and the Joker represent specific historical characters. On 26 April 2018 we will be trying out Mary's Hand in a private performance before an invited audience in central London. Some of the higher-value rewards include an invitation to this exclusive event.
Clare McCaldin plays the part of Queen Mary 1st, accompanied by cello, trumpet and oboe.
More information about the project is available at mccaldinarts.com.