Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Theatre costume

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (made)

  • Date:

    1977 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Santini, Bruno (costume designer)
    Garrett, David
    Adams, Martin (costume maker)
    David Garrett (maker)

  • Museum number:

    S.348 to I-1985

  • Gallery location:

    Theatre & Performance, Room 105, case 10 []

In 1977 Queen Elizabeth II celebrated 25 years on the throne. The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company contributed to the festivities by staging a Silver Jubilee Season at Sadler's Wells, the highlight being a new production of Iolanthe with silver-themed designs by Bruno Santini. Gilbert and Sullivan's 1882 Savoy opera mocks the House of Lords within a tale of fairy folk and mortals who struggle with a typically Gilbertian plot contrivance that impedes the course of true love. Sullivan's music incorporates references to contemporary Grand Opera and the first production presented the Queen of the Fairies as a substantial lady in a breastplate and Wagnerian helmet, whose claim to have swung upon on a cobweb was amusingly unlikely. Subsequent productions have maintained this tradition by making the Queen into a parody of Brünnhilde.

Reviewers of the 1977 production were slightly disappointed that the Fairy Queen was, in the words of the Financial Times critic: 'trim of appearance, prettily dressed and not at all ridiculous'. Her costume is a riot of black and silver synthetic fabrics, designed to shimmer under the stage lights. The bodice is shaped to suggest a breastplate but is covered in shining black sequins so that the Queen retains her femininity. Santini gave the fairies the traditional tiny wings of the Victorian imagination but the Queen's are a stylish black nylon net shot with lurex and edged in silver russia braid to match the rest of her outfit. They slot into the back of the bodice and were not worn with the cloak but mirror the 'flame' shapes of the cloak's high collar fashioned by Martin Adams from piano wire. Along with the choker necklace in the style of a ruff and the tightly curled wig, the collar hints at the Elizabethan period, an appropriate reference for a production marking the second Elizabeth's Jubilee.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (made)


1977 (made)


Santini, Bruno (costume designer)
Garrett, David
Adams, Martin (costume maker)
David Garrett (maker)

Marks and inscriptions

At nape of wig - "Made by Martin Adams for Miss Leonard [FQ]"


Height: 200 cm, Width: 155 cm, Depth: 100 cm, Circumference: 61.0 cm Wig (H) Circumference

Object history note

This costume was worn by the Queen of the Fairies in Gilbert and Sullivan's opera, Iolanthe, directed by Michael Heyland for the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, 1977. The production opened at Sadler's Wells Theatre and then toured Britain and America. Patricia Leonard was the Queen in the opening performances and the role was later taken by Elizabeth Denham and Jill Pert, whose names appear in the costume.

The Queen of the Fairies carried a full-length wand. This is also held by the V&A Theatre Collections (S.349-1985).

Descriptive line

Costume for the Fairy Queen in Gilbert and Sullivan's opera, Iolanthe, D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, 1977, designed by Bruno Santini, made by David Garrett with collar and decorative features by Martin Adams

Labels and date


Gilbert and Sullivan audiences are notoriously conservative about the staging of the operas, believing the original productions are sacrosanct. In this 1977 production of Iolanthe the D’Oyly Carte Company tried to break with the 1882 staging. The original Queen of the Fairies wore a horned helmet and breastplate, but designer Santini dressed her in black and silver, implying a feminine side beneath her hard authority.

Opera by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, 1882
D’Oyly Carte Opera Company at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London

Lurex, lamé, cotton, net, sequins, diamanté, lace, wire,
metallic cord and Velcro
Designed by Bruno Santini
Made by David Garrett and Martin Adams
Museum no. S.348&A to G-1985
[March 2009]


Entertainment & Leisure; Stage costumes


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.