Costume for Richard III, worn by Laurence Olivier thumbnail 1
Costume for Richard III, worn by Laurence Olivier thumbnail 2
Not currently on display at the V&A

Costume for Richard III, worn by Laurence Olivier

Theatre Costume
1944 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

Costume for Richard in Shakespeare's play, Richard III, worn by Laurence Olivier, Old Vic Company at the New Theatre, 1944.

Laurence Olivier’s portrayal of Shakespeare’s Richard III has entered theatrical legend. Given an afterlife by the 1955 film version, the performance has stayed in the popular imagination as the archetype of Shakespeare’s hunchbacked king. When Olivier was cast in John Burrell’s 1944 Old Vic Company production, he initially feared that he would be able to do little with the part, believing it to be too closely associated with barnstorming actor-managers. However, he gradually developed his idea of the role: ‘I wanted to look the most evil thing there was’, he said in his book, On Acting. Olivier liked to build his characters from the outside, and as Richard he disguised himself behind an exaggerated beak-like putty nose and shoulder-length black hair tinged with red. A rubber glove became the withered left hand.

The green velvet doublet that Olivier wore for his first scenes was designed by Doris Zinkeisen (1898–1991). It is inspired by 1480s fashions and looks opulent enough for a Royal duke. But the play was staged during the Second World War, under wartime rationing restrictions, and the ‘make do and mend’ philosophy of the time can be seen in the way that the neck infill and tight-fitting sleeves are constructed from the grosgrain fabric that was frequently used for blackout curtains. The doublet is designed so that the decorative stitching at the back only hangs properly when the costume is padded out by a hump, and the infill gives an irregular neckline that subtly emphasises the character’s deformity.


Object details
Categories
Object type
Parts
This object consists of 2 parts.
(Some alternative part names are also shown below)
  • Theatre Costume
  • Doublet
  • Theatre Costume
  • Belt
Materials and techniques
Velvet, cotton, grosgrain and rabbit fur
Brief description
Costume for Richard in Shakespeare's play, Richard III, worn by Laurence Olivier, Old Vic Company at the New Theatre, 1944
Physical description
Green velvet doublet with hanging sleeves, the hem, sleeve openings and sleeve ends trimmed with rabbit fur, the front edges trimmed with braid, the front and black with decorative ribbed stitching. Black grosgrain insert at the yoke and brass buttons at the front, black grosgrain sleeves, the cuffs and collar with attached white cotton bands to suggest a shirt. With separate belt decorated with brass studs.
Dimensions
  • Doublet, collar to cuff length: 100cm
  • Doublet, across shoulders width: 50cm
  • Belt length: 107cm
  • Belt width: 4cm
  • Total costume weight weight: 2.2kg
Marks and inscriptions
  • 'B.J. Simmons and Co / 7-8 King St, Covent Garden' (Trade label.)
  • 'Mr L. Olivier S673' (Written identification on trade label.)
  • 'Richard III' (Written identification on label (tape).)
  • 'RH28' (Written identification on fabric.)
Credit line
Given by the National Theatre
Production
Made at King Street, Covent Garden.
Summary
Costume for Richard in Shakespeare's play, Richard III, worn by Laurence Olivier, Old Vic Company at the New Theatre, 1944.



Laurence Olivier’s portrayal of Shakespeare’s Richard III has entered theatrical legend. Given an afterlife by the 1955 film version, the performance has stayed in the popular imagination as the archetype of Shakespeare’s hunchbacked king. When Olivier was cast in John Burrell’s 1944 Old Vic Company production, he initially feared that he would be able to do little with the part, believing it to be too closely associated with barnstorming actor-managers. However, he gradually developed his idea of the role: ‘I wanted to look the most evil thing there was’, he said in his book, On Acting. Olivier liked to build his characters from the outside, and as Richard he disguised himself behind an exaggerated beak-like putty nose and shoulder-length black hair tinged with red. A rubber glove became the withered left hand.



The green velvet doublet that Olivier wore for his first scenes was designed by Doris Zinkeisen (1898–1991). It is inspired by 1480s fashions and looks opulent enough for a Royal duke. But the play was staged during the Second World War, under wartime rationing restrictions, and the ‘make do and mend’ philosophy of the time can be seen in the way that the neck infill and tight-fitting sleeves are constructed from the grosgrain fabric that was frequently used for blackout curtains. The doublet is designed so that the decorative stitching at the back only hangs properly when the costume is padded out by a hump, and the infill gives an irregular neckline that subtly emphasises the character’s deformity.

Collection
Accession number
S.824:1 to 2-1997

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Record createdJuly 1, 2009
Record URL
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