Birmingham Rep wardrobe chat about Anita and Me



The stage version of  ‘Anita and Me’, Meera Syal’s fantastic novel based on her childhood growing up in Walsall in the 1970s, has its world premiere at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre this Friday. Ahead of the much anticipated show, I was lucky enough to have a chat with Kay Wilton, who is one of the costume makers and cutters at the Birmingham Rep, about how the costumes were sourced for a play that has both feet firmly planted in the 1970s.

Fashion-mommy: How did you go about sourcing the costumes for Anita and Me?

Kay: We had some original pieces in our stores in Hockley, original 70s stuff that are part of the Rep’s long history. We also looked in vintage shops and sourced stuff online. We have also been lucky that the 70s is having a bit of a fashion moment presently, which means there are 70s inspired pieces in stores like New Look and H&M.

There were a few very special pieces that had to be specially made, but most of the costumes could be quite easily sourced.

FM: Were there any costumes that gave you any problems?

KW: Obviously there are Asian characters in Anita and Me, and although I am knowledgeable about 70s fashion having lived through the period and worn it myself, I am not familiar with traditional Asian dress from this period. I consulted with some of the actors to make sure what we were using was correct – such as the Salwar Kameez. We didn’t want to be using modern Asian clothing for characters from the 1970s.

FM: Is there a particular costume that you are most proud of?

KW: Most of it has been sourced, but there is one dress that Meena wears which her mother has made for her – frilly, over the top. It’s not exactly proud though – more that it looks authentic.

FM: Were you familiar with the film and story?

KW: I had seen the film recently so was reasonably familiar with it, I also read the script, which does differ a little from the film and book. One thing our director was keen on was bright colours. There was an awful lot of brown in the 1970s, but our director wanted to avoid this cliche, this stereotype.

FM: You say you sourced a lot of the costumes, were you able to do this in Birmingham?

KW: Yes, we looked in a lot of the vintage shops, but not the obvious ones. The Rag Market was great for some things – flared jeans for example, and at the back of the market is a shop called Cash Converters Vintage where we were able to find lots of original pieces reasonably priced – things like day dresses and street wear. Vintage shops like Cow have amazing, high end pieces, but they would be wrong for this play. We needed daywear and casual clothes.

FM: Has Meera Syal had any imput into the costumes?

KW: She’s not had any direct imput into the costumes, but she did supply some original family photographs for the designers to help get the look just right.

With thanks to Kay Wilton for her time.

Anita and Me opens at the Birmingham Rep on Friday. For ticket information, click here.


Further Reading

Further Viewing

JB’s in administration – teenage fashion memories.

Logo JB's Dudley

Image via Wikipedia

I popped into Sainsburys on Saturday to pick up hair colour, having made a knee jerk decision that I needed to go blonder, and whilst there I noticed that lots of the October style mags were out = Marie Claire, In Style, Harper’s Bazaar etc. So, obviously I grabbed them and got into the long Saturday Lottery queue. And there, on the front of the local Express and Star was the emblazoned headline ‘JB’S IN ADMINISTRATION’. Legendary Dudley venue under threat of closure. I instantly felt sick. JB’S couldn’t possibly close, it’s an institution,where bands like the Wonderstuff, Neds Atomic Dustbin and Pop Will Eat itself had started out. The venue where I’d danced the night away with my best friend Dawn and snogged inappropriate men with long hair. The place of my teenage fashion memories.

The original JB’s was n King Street in Dudley, a tiny, grotty but cool venue tucked away from the main town. It was usually busy, as Dudley was very much a student town in those early 1990’s days. It was the days of Nirvana and Grunge, James and Sit Down and the Stourbridge sound of The Wonderstuff, who became so successful they even had a (sell out) number one with Vic Reeves.

I’d first discovered JB’S through a slightly older boyfriend, but it was once he was out the way that Dawn and I really discovered our fashion mojo. JB’S was dark in terms of fashion as well as lighting, full of Goth type girls in black swirly skirts and Sisters Of Mercy make up. Dawn and I were far more girly than that, going for a 1960’s/1970’s slant of glitter, a-line skirts and in Dawn’s case, a fabulous white leather Emma Peel style Avengers jacket.  We went shopping in charity shops in the local area, and paid trips to the rag market in Birmingham in order to pick up cheaper Doc Marten’s in cherry red. These are now definitely back in vogue with Jessica Alba hardly out of hers.

A typical saturday night outfit would feature a pretty suede or leather vintage skirt, with a lurex or lacy top and opaque tights. Doc Martens on your feet and a tiny purse in your hand. Handbags were a no-no, where could you put them when you danced? Hair had to be glossy and long for swishing around as you danced (moshed!). Lots of 1960’s style black mascara would complete the look.

Another favourite outfit featured a fabulously frilled vintage blouse in the Adam Ant pirate style, worn with denim hot pants and opaques. A purple shearling long coat edge with white faux fur and a santa hood was great when the weather went cold, as the taxi rank was a long walk back into town.

Some of the style would work just as well now. Dawn had an amazing brown leather satchel bag she used to wear cross body, which would ‘ve been perfect for Spring/Summer 10, whilst my vintage cream button back blouse would’ve fitted into this season like a glove. The Doc Marten’s have never left fashion – Agyness Deyn, Alexa Chung and Jessica Alba all still wear the heavy, but comfortable boots.

When Sienna Miller first emerged as the Queen of Boho chic in the early millennium, I remember thinking, she’s stole our style! Shearling waistcoats, floppy hats, boho skirts, we’d worn them all, 10 years earlier, and with such teenage aplomb.

I remember my last visit to JB’S. It had moved to its current venue by then on Castle Hill, and it was larger, slightly cleaner, but nowhere near as charming as the original venue. We went to see a tribute band called Ocean Coloured Theme. They were alright, but I was now out-of-place, wearing a grey silk floral skirt, lace black top and…gasp…heels. I’d even got a handbag. Dawn still knew the trick, turning up in casual jeans and rugby top, but I no longer fitted in. I didn’t like the beer on the day floor that made it so slippy for my heels, no the darkness of the place.

Even so, I would still miss it if it did die, and joined The Birmingham Hummingbird and the Walsall 5th as a big nightclub in the sky. Indie kids need their venues and they shouldn’t be bright and clean!

Did Sienna Miller steal her look from Dawn and I? Boho Sienna.