Cirque Corner  


The Beatles LOVE

[ You are here: Grand Chapiteau | Creations | The Beatles LOVE | Costumes & Props ]



The Beatles




Get Back
Glass Onion
Eleanor Rigby
Rock'n'Roll Run
Abbey Road /
Gnik Nus /
Mr. Kite
Yesterday / Jam
Strawberry Fields
Within, Without
Lucy in the Sky
Lady Madonna
Octopus' Garden
Here Comes t/Sun
Come Together
Revolution / USSR
Guitar Weeps
A Day in the Life
Hey Jude /
Sgt. Pepper
All You Need

I am the Walrus




Le Theatre
Costumes & Props
    "The audience is there to hear The Beatles' songs [so] I've tried to imagine the costumes in the same spirit of creativity in which they created their music." — Philippe Guillotel, Costume Designer

Inspired by the poetry of the lyrics, the creative team designed a series of scenes inhabited by colorful characters in extravagant costumes. Costume designer Philippe Guillotel, who has worked on projects ranging from French choreographer Philippe Decoufflé to the Albertville Winter Olympic Games, admits that "the 60s are not really my thing," but he was intrigued when Gilles Ste.-Croix, Cirque du Soleil's director of creation, asked him to design costumes for a show based on The Beatles. "I knew that they accepted a lot of creativity, and decided the best approach was to pull the characters out of the songs and bring them to life."

Like the other designers for LOVE, Guillotel was aware that millions of people worldwide, including the potential audience members, had imagined these characters as they listened to the songs. "You can't make mistakes," he admits. So to immerse himself in Beatles lore, he went to their hometown of Liverpool, England, to do research. "I visited the grave of Eleanor Rigby in the cemetery of the church where they say two of the Beatles, John and Paul, first met," he says. "I also read a lot about The Beatles' era, and tried to decipher the songs via translations into French." In doing so, Guillotel discovered a universe of people that were easy to pull from the lyrics. "There is even a statue of Eleanor Rigby, thanks to The Beatles. These people have been glorified," he says.

In creating the imaginary universe of The Beatles in the period of 1961 to 1969, Guillotel looked at influences such as London's colorful Carnaby Street flower children clothes and the later East Indian styles brought from the ashrams. "From post-WWII through to the hippies, there were enormous social changes, such as sexual liberty, and the summer of ‘69 and Woodstock. I was young and saw those images as well." Therefore, Guillotel set himself the tough challenge of evoking a sense of time and place to fit the various eras of the Beatles' career as a group. To achieve that goal he has used Victorian and traditional designs juxtaposed with fanciful, youthful, colorful fashions to reflect the inventiveness of the Beatles' visionary and revolutionary creative energy in all its moods. "I wanted to pay tribute to the creativity of the Beatles with my designs and to accomplish that I've tried to be as creative as they were."

A team of experts worked around the clock to craft Guillotel's 331 multi-layered costumes, using highly textural fabrics and incorporating everyday materials such as foam, plastic, industrial objects, inflatable inserts, and lights. His designs also called for the creation of custom-designed textiles, including netting that fluidly takes on different shapes as the artists move on stage. Many of the LOVE costumes are exceptionally large and highly crafted, almost like outsized puppets or mascots. Some, as in the Mr. Kite scene, are imbued with fantasy and whimsy, featuring concepts such as an oversized accordion or a fog effect concealed within the costume (which exemplifies the significant crossover between props and costumes on this show). For the Sgt. Pepper Parade Guillotel took a fresh approach to the Savile Row tailoring tradition by turning suits inside out to expose their colorful linings and create a punchy, expressive visual statement.

The key characters in the show are directly inspired by individuals mentioned by name in the Beatles' songs, and Guillotel has rendered their costumes in a stylized form that recalls a comic-book graphic approach to the clothing worn in wartime Liverpool. One of the most amusing costumes is the Queen of England, whose dress is on an armature that is exposed in the back and she herself is in a picture frame, as if in a painting. "The costume is flat on the front as if it were two-dimensional," says Guillotel. "But it gets moresupple as the eras go by and she can wrap it around herself."

A fat character referred to as "Mr. Piggy," represents the bourgeoisie, the excess of the establishment. "There are motors and fans inside to keep the costume inflated," notes Guillotel. "This works better than foam and gives the actor more physical liberty in the costume." The character Julia (who represents motherhood) appears in a ball gown, and in one of the most spectacular costumes in the show, as a jellyfish "flying" through the Octopus's Garden in the sea. There is also a chorus of Groupies and Lovers populating LOVE, and their costumes are informed by the 1960s and 1970s. But Guillotel is quick to point out these designs are interpretations, not reproductions, of actual fashions of the time. "That would have been the easy way to go," he points out. "But it would have been far less well suited to the intentions of the show."

The first character that Guillotel designed for LOVE was the "man from the motor trade" (translates to a car salesman, from "She's Leaving Home"), although here he has a ladder as if he were a fireman or in the building trades. With his ladder, he picks up Lucy from her sky of diamonds. "He loves her," says Guillotel, who dressed Lucy as if an acrobat from the 19th century in a crinoline and bustier. "He remains earthbound as she flies off. His costume looks massive but is actually very light." Guillotel also designed the English Bobby costumes for the ushers, treating them as if they were characters in the show, along with Sgt. Pepper and all the others. "The Bobbies' hats are almost like The Beatles famous haircuts," notes the designer, noting that these hats were made of real hair, nothing synthetic for Sir Paul (McCartney). In one scene, everyone on stage is wearing a Beatles mask, to represent their worldwide fame, and the universal recognition that would swell to Beatlemania.

* * *

Many of these characters use or interact with the close to 600 stage and acrobatic props in the show, including luminescent umbrellas and two 32-foot-long remotely manipulated trains adorned with flickering candles. The show also features a multitude of musical instruments presented in unique ways. From unusual drum kits and destroyed cellos, Beatles guitars and triangles to fantasy instruments of pure whimsy. There's even a piano from which masses of bubbles erupt. Designer Patricia Ruel says a prop is more than a mere object or costume element, "A prop can play a decisive part in defining a character and evoking a time or a place. It can also help establish mood and atmosphere." The props in LOVE are a blend of antiques, junkyard discoveries, off-the-shelf hardware and custom-designed handcrafted pieces. One item can appear in many guises throughout the show.

A perfect example is her use of umbrellas. An umbrella can be used to symbolize the broken wings of Blackbirds and in an instant it is transformed into fish floating through the Octopus's Garden only to reappear as psychedelic images in the universe of Mr. Kite. Later in the show, umbrellas reveal swirls of red petals in Hey Jude.

"A great deal of work has gone into the creation of the characters," Ruel notes, "Each of them owns objects that help in that process." Character development is reflected in the evolution of certain props such as Eleanor Rigby's train of belongings. Drawn from the lyrics of the song, Eleanor Rigby's story is carried with her on a train lit by candles; each carriage represents a specific era in her past. Charred and fragile from the war, the train grows throughout the show as she collects memories.

Sgt. Pepper's story is reflected in his collection of eclectic musical instruments. After his marching band is destroyed in the war, he collects the debris of everyday items. Teapots and pipes, pots and pans, whatever he manages to recover in the wreckage of war, is assembled to become his instruments. These 'restored' instruments are actually constructed of lightweight PVC and vacuform and feature detailed patina work which gives them their antique, destroyed appearance. In addition to Ruel's creations, renowned puppet designer Michael Curry has assisted in the development of three Volkswagen beetles: the smoking car, the rolling car and the crash car. The crash car is constructed out of puppet components, which allows the artists to break the car apart in choreographed movements. Curry also developed a quirky device made from yellow rubber boots, and two large-scale paper-puppets for the lyrical "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" sequence.

"LOVE is on many levels closer to theatre than to circus and the prop poetically reveals and supports the development of the character as it evolves throughout the show and the history of the Beatles," Patricia said.

Cirque Corner