Perchance to dream... of David Tennant's slippers

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

A Slice of Britain: Stage doublets, corsets, frocks and toppers are up for grabs in the latest costume sale at the RSC... and the bargain-hunters enter right on cue

It is eight o'clock in the morning, and Jane Hewson has been sitting next to the same stretch of Stratford-upon-Avon road since midnight. She is on a serious mission and will stay as long as it takes: there will be no going home without a pair of David Tennant's slippers.

It is four years since the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) last held a costume sale, and the 50-year-old youth theatre worker is leaving absolutely nothing to chance. Behind her are the company's rehearsal rooms, where about 10,000 costumes are arrayed: more than 1,000 pairs of shoes, 500 shirts and 300 hats. The doors don't open until 10am, but to have any chance of the best spoils you have to arrive in the small hours.

Dressed in a thick hat and two pairs of gloves, and armed with a foldaway chair and a sleeping bag, Mrs Hewson waited alone for nearly five hours before a queue began to form behind her.

"I got here and thought, 'Where's the queue?'. I thought I was in the wrong place. No one else turned up till about 4.30. I think it's been worth it though – at least I'm first. Hopefully I can get David Tennant's slippers and a waistcoat worn by Charles Dance."

She runs the X-centricity youth theatre group in Ross-on-Wye, and wants to acquire clothes worn by big-name actors, some as a reward for those in leading roles when the group stages a Shakespeare production later in the year. The rest she plans to auction, raising money for future productions. Her wish-list includes Dance's waistcoat, worn in As You Like It, and Tennant's footwear from his highly acclaimed performance in the title role of Hamlet, three years ago.

Twenty minutes before the sale begins, a queue of more than 1,000 people snakes far down the road. The only queue to rival it in town is outside the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust around the corner, where a stream of Japanese tourists waits for the doors to open, cameras at the ready.

At 10am on the dot, the doors open, and the first 200 are allowed into the long corridor leading to the sale. Half walking, half trotting, the throng surges away from the archive room, where celebrity items are siphoned off, making for two large rehearsal rooms resembling school halls. In these are the chain mail, gowns, crowns and doublets of more than two decades of performance. The excited crowd falls on rail after rail of flamboyant costumes.

Mrs Hewson has but one thing in her sights. "I've got the slippers!" she squeals, emerging from the archive room holding aloft a pair of supremely average-looking specimens in a plastic bag. These were not exactly part of Tennant's costume when he starred in the company's 2008 production of Hamlet, more the place he put his sweaty feet between scenes. At £50 they seem quite steep, considering they bear a remarkable resemblance to the kind you get free in hotels.

Teaming up with her friend to get around a two-pieces-per-person limit on high-value items, she has gathered up Sir Ian McKellen's shirt, worn in The Seagull, Tim Pigott-Smith's jacket from Women Beware Women and the Charles Dance waistcoat, all for about £60 each.

David Grilly, 51, and Jan Burns, 45, from the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival drove through the night from Liverpool to be here at 5.30am, so they could scoop up cheap costumes and props for this summer's festival. They are clutching six enormous bin bags of costumes and wait nervously for the total to be totted up on a calculator. Unlike the "celebrity" items, the only limit to what you buy is how much you can carry. Propping up a bag of doublets and breeches, Ms Burns's hands shake as she gets out her credit card to settle the final tally of more than £700.

"I guess a lot of people are here to flog things on eBay, but we've got eight productions this year, so we need to get kitted out," she explains.

If there are cynics here looking to make a quick sale on eBay, they are keeping a low profile. Most seem more dedicated to dressing up than making money: some so much so that they appear to be already in costume. John Osbourne, 50, is sporting a floor-length leather coat, a silver-topped cane and a Fu Manchu moustache big enough to sustain its own ecosystem. He travelled up from Tamworth and at 10.30am is near the back of the queue, facing a long wait.

"I'm into steam punk, so I've come for Victorian clothes," he explains. "My wish list is a silk top hat and a fly-fronted long overcoat you can wear over a frock coat."

As stock levels dwindle, the scenes inside begin to get more feral. With no changing rooms, one woman strips to her bra in the corner to try on a series of corsets and medieval frocks; others mutter darkly as they are beaten to prizes.

By 11.30am, the rooms are already looking bare. Along the corridor, a line of people is leaning against the wall trying to keep enormous piles of dresses and chain mail aloft.

With her own bundle of finery, Jane Hewson is next to them, catching her breath. "There have been some very sharp elbows," she says, standing guard over her hoard. "I gathered what I wanted on a rail and as soon as I looked away there was someone trying to take something."

Outside, the moustached Mr Osbourne is still separated from the door by at least 100 people. In the cut-throat world of costume-hunting he's likely to be leaving empty-handed. Eyeing a group leaving with bin bags, he murmurs: "I doubt there'll be much hope of finding that silk top hat now."

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas