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Claire Finlay-Thompson: ‘I love using costume design to take the audience on a journey’

Claire Finlay-Thompson Claire Finlay-Thompson

Film and TV costume designer Claire Finlay-Thompson is venturing into the world of theatre to work on Spiked, a new play exploring motherhood. She tells Giverny Masso her career highlights so far, and her tips for up-and-coming designers…

How did you get involved in Spiked?

I’m a mum, and also a friend of Felicite Du Jeu, who has written it. It’s about mothers and so she wanted mothers involved. I mainly do TV and film, but I’d love to do more theatre. I love using design to take the audience on a journey, trying to help tell a story or a joke.

Have you experienced challenges as a working parent in the industry?

I have a few children, and the stresses of being a mum are very full on, but it’s really important for the kids to see me working and happy. Working makes me a better mum. I have done job-shares before, which was useful, and now I always try to make it work for other working mums. I always try to talk to them and help where I can.

West End stars call for job shares to support working parents

How does theatre design compare to TV and film?

Whatever I’m designing, whether I’m doing a commercial, a film, a TV show or theatre, big or small budget, I always work in the same way: I focus on the characters, and what it is they have to do on stage or on set.

What are your career highlights?

I’ve been working on the upcoming film Official Secrets, which stars Keira Knightley. Also The Festival, a new film from the creators of The Inbetweeners. I also do lots of comedy, which has included Gavin and Stacey.

How did you get into the industry?

I went to a really good art college – Wimbledon School of Art – where I did a BA in Costume Interpretation. It’s a tricky career to get into. I started off doing work experience. For the first couple of jobs, you just need to make it work. I had a car, which was really helpful because I could pick everyone up and drive them around. I’d never driven in London before, which was scary, but that led to my first paid job. I then worked my way up as a trainee.

What is your advice to someone at the beginning of their career?

Embed yourself in a team and be flexible and fun to be around. Work always breeds more work. If you are feeling stuck in a rut, do a job and it will breed other work.

What is the piece of work you are most proud of?

I always enjoy what I’m doing at the time and try to embrace what I have coming up. I don’t believe in living in the past. However, I loved doing The League of Gentlemen, The Festival and Snow Dogs. I did a period film in the Amazon and got to go to Brazil, which was really fun. I like to be my best on each job. I’m proud of all of it.

Who are your biggest influences?

I really love Sandy Powell, Michele Clapton – who does Game of Thrones – and the French designer Yves Barre.

Spiked is running at the Pleasance Theatre in London until April 28