Designing the Countess

  • The design

    This gallery shows the development of the Countess's costume for All's Well That Ends Well.

    The Countessplayed by Charlotte Cornwell, is primarily a mother figure. She is Bertram's mother, but she is also Helena's guardian, and when Bertram treats Helena badly, the Countess sides with Helena rather than her own son.

    Director Nancy Meckler wanted the nurturing aspect of the Countess's character to be brought out, suggesting that maybe she grows plants as a way of showing this. For this reason the design shows the Countess holding a garden fork.

    Designer Katrina Lindsay explained: 'I was keen that she looked like she comes from Old Money and is a woman from a distinguished background. I quite liked the juxtaposition of a woman tending her plants but looking distinguished and wealthy whilst doing it.'

  • The material

    The dress is made from fine black merino wool, and is being hand sewn by Judith Clarke in our Costume Workshops in Stratford-upon-Avon.

    Once she had been given the design for the Countess costume, Judith began by making up a rough version of the dress to show the designer, Katrina Lindsay.

    Katrina checked the rough version, and made a few minor tweaks to the design, and Judith started work on the real dress. This meant she didn't have to undo her work on the final version.

  • The bodice

    This mannequin shows the bodice for the Countess costume in All's Well That Ends Well. It features pleats on one side and is plain on the other, and has a brooch fastening. On the left is a raglan sleeve which is sewn into the neckline, while on the right is a standard set in sleeve. The lower-arm part of the sleeves includes a diamond-shape which tapers into the cuffs.

  • The skirt

    Judith works on the skirt of the Countess costume. Made from the same black material as the bodice, the skirt is plain on the left side and draped on the right, with a black fabric belt.

    The Designer, Katrina, adds: 'The Countess is very high status but not cut off from understanding. As we aren't setting it in a particular time I just wanted the dress to look wealthy and of its own style, giving her status but nothing too recognisable in terms of cut.'

  • Detail on the skirt

    Judith works on the finer detail of the skirt, which is pleated on one side.

    During the first fitting other staff from our costumer workshops came to check hats, shoes and jewellery. The Countess will wear pearls, and a brooch on the fasting on the bodice of the dress.

    The first fitting for the costume took place. This serves three purposes:

    • For Judith to check the fit and make fine adjustments
    • For Katrina, the Designer, to see that the dress looks as she wants it to look
    • For Charlotte, the Actor, to see that it will be comfort and practical for her to move about on stage
  • The finished costume

    A second fitting takes place shortly before the costume is needed in rehearsal, to make the final adjustments, ensuring it's a perfect fit and that Charlotte will be able to move freely in it on stage.

    Once complete, the dress is collected and taken across to the theatre, for Charlotte to wear it during technical rehearsals in the last days before the show opens.

  • Edith Evans

    This shows Edith Evans as the Countess in the 1959 production, directed by Tyrone Guthrie. The costume is featured in our Into the Wild exhibition, in the PACCAR Room.

  • Into the Wild

    Centre, Edith Evans's constume on display in Into the Wild.

  • Judi Dench

    This shows Judi Dench playing the Countess in the 2003 production, directed by Gregory Doran, in the Swan Theatre. The costume is featured in our Into the Wild exhibition, in the PACCAR Room.

    Does the Countess put the 'mother' in 'smother'?


All's Well That Ends Well

by William Shakespeare

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