Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Costume design - Hamlet Goes Hollywood

Hamlet Goes Hollywood

  • Object:

    Costume design

  • Place of origin:

    Singapore (made)

  • Date:

    1944 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Searle, Ronald, born 1920 (costume designers)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour, ink and crayon on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mr W.J. Beckerley

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

‘Hamlet Goes Hollywood’ was a sketch performed in the Rag Bag Revue on 21 March 1944. The venue was the Barn, in the Sime Road section of Changi Jail in Singapore, and the costume designs were drawn by artist Ronald Searle (1920-2011), then a prisoner-of-war. The POWs wrote and performed revues and put on plays as a form of distraction. Searle helped to write the sketches, designed costumes and sets, and drew makeshift programmes for many of the shows performed there.

A portion of the script for ‘Hamlet in Hollywood’ survives in one of Searle’s notebooks held by the Imperial War Museum. The play was given the Hollywood movie treatment: Hamlet greets the Ghost’s revelation with the words, ‘No kidding! So it was moider, huh? Well, what do you know about that!’ The design shows characters in period costume and modern dress. Horatio (second left) is a detective in trench coat and trilby, Hamlet (far left, with skull) has a green shirt, a black gown, and striped pyjama trousers poking out from beneath khaki shorts. It might not have been too difficult to find these in a POW camp, but he also wears yellow stockings, a red cummerbund and a ruff. The King (third left) looks like Macbeth in a large skew-whiff crown and kilt. Gertrude and Ophelia (third and second from right) wear full Tudor dress, which may have been over-ambitious – though Searle’s sketchbooks indicate that there was a regular call-out to prisoners for donations and assistance in the manufacture of period costumes and props. Searle himself played the Ghost (far right) in a costume consisting of ‘2 sheets’. At this point he weighed around six stone.

By his own admission Searle was a ‘trouble maker’ in the eyes of the British authorities in the camp, and in his memoir, To the Kwai and Back, he suggests that he and his friends were deliberately given the hardest and most dangerous jobs because of this. A typed note on the back of the sketch, implying possible censorship, is a testimony to his belief in the free expression of artists whatever their situation.

Physical description

Six costume sketches for 'Hamlet Goes Hollywood' by Ronald Searle, made for The Barn Theatre at Changi Jail, Sime Road Prisoner of War Camp, Singapore, 1944. Pen and ink, watercolour and crayon on blue and red feint rule paper, inscribed with notes and marginal sketches, and on the reverse with typed notes and cast list.

Place of Origin

Singapore (made)


1944 (made)


Searle, Ronald, born 1920 (costume designers)

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour, ink and crayon on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'Nelson's blind eye. / Those who / running their eye over the editorial / board expect a spicy scurrility or / at best an irresponsible outspokenness / will be disappointed. We shall try / to be reasonable without being / pathetic. Our aim is to enlighten / and amuse, and within the limits / necessarily imposed by our status as / prisoners of war to provide a forum / for the expression of all progressive / opinion.'

Typewriten note on reverse.


Height: 18 cm, Width: 21 cm

Descriptive line

Costume designs by Ronald Searle for 'Hamlet Goes Hollywood', a sketch performed in the Rag Bag Revue, The Barn Theatre at Changi Jail, Sime Road Prisoner of War Camp, Singapore, 1944


Watercolour; Ink; Crayon; Paper


Drawing (image-making); Painting (image-making)


Entertainment & Leisure; Theatre; Designs; Drawings


Theatre and Performance Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.