Costume departments working on some of theatre’s biggest shows are bracing themselves for a no-deal Brexit, warning there could be significant disruption if materials that are regularly sourced from Europe are subject to delays or price hikes.
Some are even stockpiling certain products vital to their day-to-day operations in anticipation of problems should the UK crash out of the European Union without a deal in October.
Major wardrobe departments and independent costumiers are among those expressing concern about the complications that could arise for them post-Brexit regardless of the UK’s political arrangement with the EU. However, the possibility of a no-deal scenario has exerted added pressure, The Stage understands.
The Royal Shakespeare Company, which has one of the largest in-house costume departments in the country, buys fabrics, haberdashery, clothing and other costume components from all over the world, including many EU countries.
Fabrics are sourced from Germany, Italy and France, with crystal beads from Austria and metal for crowns from Bavaria. Fastenings, zips and hooks are often also purchased from abroad.
RSC head of wardrobe Alistair McArthur said there are some key stock items from the EU he would stock up on in advance, such as velvets, stretch linen and the braiding used for ruffs. However, much of the department’s buying is a response to designs and information coming at the rehearsal stages, meaning advance ordering is not always possible.
“A lot of the time we are working against tight deadlines between item selection and the need to have them delivered for construction or fitting. Delays to delivery will inevitably affect our selection process and could result in a much narrower field of choice, which has the potential for unwanted artistic compromise,” he told The Stage.
McArthur also warned that even the RSC’s relationship with UK suppliers could be affected, because they in turn often source from the EU.
RSC executive director Catherine Mallyon said such uncertainty remained the biggest challenge posed by Brexit across the running of the Stratford-upon-Avon organisation.
“It can be unsettling for partnership working – we have seen some businesses deferring sponsorship decisions until there is more clarity, and any short supply or increased price of materials would have an adverse impact on our catering and retail operations,” she said.
“Even more importantly, any reduction in non-UK EU staff could disrupt our operations,” she added, maintaining that a no-deal Brexit would have “catastrophic consequences” for the wider creative industries.
Other creatives, including West End costumiers and wig makers, told The Stage they were worried about being able to access some EU products and were stockpiling materials as a result.
Another area of concern is the potential difficulties a no-deal Brexit could have on costume houses’ export businesses.
London-based costumier Cosprop supplies period costumes for film, television and theatre. A significant portion of its business comes from supplying costumes to productions outside the UK.
‘Delays to delivery will inevitably affect our selection process and could result in a much narrower field of choice and unwanted artistic compromise’ – RSC head of wardrobe Alistair McArthur
Chris Garlick, general manager of Cosprop, said the company had benefited from the fluidity afforded by free trade between EU countries.
He said: “We make and hire out costumes that we then send to Europe. At the moment, there’s no paperwork involved in that. One of the problems for us will be the additional paperwork and potential time in customs.
“The way the industry works is that everything is so last-minute. Nothing is cast until the last minute and things have to happen very quickly, [meaning] we are put at risk.”
The supply implications of the UK exiting without a deal would extend beyond production departments to other areas such as technical solutions.
Bryan Raven, managing director of lighting, video and audio specialists White Light, told The Stage that he had already come across cases in which productions or venues had been unable to get the exact equipment they needed because of Brexit. He said he anticipated a no-deal scenario would increase such problems.
However, he argued: “This isn’t going to grind the industry to a halt. What is going to grind it to a halt is the macroeconomics of Britain: if we make it hard for people to come to this country to work, and [the EU makes] it hard for us to go and work in their countries, then we are very quickly no longer going to be a world-leading producer of music, theatre or events.
“Yes, the practical side of things will be irritating and frustrating, but the bigger picture is much more serious.”