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Tim Heywood - Head of Wardrobe at Derby Theatre

PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 December 2016

'Rats' at Derby Theatre

'Rats' at Derby Theatre

derby theatre

Nigel Powlson meets Derby Theatre’s illustrious Head of Wardrobe, Tim Heywood, who has remained true to his love of the theatre through bad and good times

Tim Heywood, Head of Wardrobe at Derby TheatreTim Heywood, Head of Wardrobe at Derby Theatre

TIM Heywood gave up a life rubbing shoulders with Hollywood stars to reignite his lifelong passion for theatre – but instead, found himself out of work after arriving at the Derby Playhouse just weeks before it went into administration. Derby Theatre’s Head of Wardrobe could have simply headed back to London and revived a successful career in movies, but he says his stubborn streak convinced him to stick it out and nearly a decade later he’s delighted with his decision.

‘Derby Theatre is in a really good place now,’ he says – but admits that it has been a long, hard road and it would have been easier to walk away in the early days.

Tim came to Derby Playhouse in 2007 – but almost immediately found himself out of work as a financial crisis engulfed the theatre and it was forced to shut its doors.

He said: ‘It was horrific and I had only been here two-and-a-half months. The first inkling I got was the week before, when the papers said the theatre was in trouble. We were all working on our Christmas show, Treasure Island, but on the day it was due to open we were called into the auditorium and some men from the council told us the theatre was now closed and we had half-an-hour to get our coats and leave the building.

Last year's production of Cinderella at Derby Theatre Photo: Robert DayLast year's production of Cinderella at Derby Theatre Photo: Robert Day

‘I had left a well-paid career in London and was out of work but it was more awful for those who had been there for 20 years or more. It was also terrible for the city and the damage that was done to the cultural heart of Derby.’

After a traumatic period, the venue eventually re-opened as Derby Theatre after being rescued by the University of Derby and reinvented as a ground-breaking ‘learning theatre’.

Tim says: ‘It took a long time to get the theatre back on its feet but now, nationally, they are looking at Derby Theatre as an exemplar model of what a link-up between an education establishment and a creative theatre can be. It has totally turned around.

‘Back in 2007 lots of people lost money. We closed just before Christmas and if you had booked a show for the New Year that was that. No wonder audiences deserted us – and we had lost the database and mailing lists. Everything had gone and we started again from zero. It has been a hard slog and painful but for those people who have stuck with it, treasured it and wanted it to succeed, we are now seeing the benefits.’

'Sweeney Todd''Sweeney Todd'

Tim comes from Cornwall and grew up with a love of theatre but originally planned to be an actor, before his talent for design was spotted.

He says: ‘I went to university to study drama and theatre arts – it was a very serious drama course – but they made us look at all the theatre disciplines, acting, directing, lighting and the head of department saw my design work and told me I had a real eye for it.

‘I designed a show in my second year, enjoyed it immensely and ended up designing all the shows in college while I was there. I worked for the university for a year after graduating as a resident designer and then moved to London to look for work.’

Tim got his big break almost straight away, after being asked to oversee the costumes for a production of Noël Coward’s Easy Virtue at the King’s Head, a small but prestigious venue with a glowing reputation for quality.

Tim says: ‘It was run as an American-style dinner theatre in this pub in Islington, a bizarre place – but they were really passionate about creating great theatre even if it was hard work and no money.

Easy Virtue hadn’t been performed since 1927 when Noël Coward first did it but they decided to revive it and it was the right play at the right time, with a great cast. It really took off and transferred into the West End. It was crazy as a first job. It ran in the West End for two years and was very successful so it led to other work coming on the back of that. I was incredibly lucky and that was my big break.’

It was a watershed moment for Tim that finally convinced him that it was right to choose design over acting.

He says: ‘There was a scene with a party, which was great for a costume designer as everything was sparkly and I could show off. But one of the extras phoned in sick so I was asked to fill in as I was the same size. I went on, delivered my one line, and I was so scared that I thought “I have definitely made the right decision.”’

Tim has not only worked in London’s West End but on New York’s Broadway.

He said: ‘I did a number of plays on Broadway for Katherine Zuber – who did the Tom Stoppard trilogy Arcadia and won the Tony Award for costumes and I got a nice note and a bunch of flowers telling me somewhere I had half a Tony as I did all the menswear for her. That was nice.’

He has also been a senior costumier on numerous big budget feature films, while working for leading costumiers Angels. The firm has had a hand in massive productions such as Titanic and Gladiator. Tim worked on The Golden Compass, The Other Boleyn Girl and The Aviator to name just three and has rubbed shoulders with stars like Daniel Craig and Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe who came to Tim when he needed a glam outfit for his 16th birthday party.

‘Every film was different,’ says Tim. ‘When I was working on The Other Boleyn Girl I got into all things Elizabethan; The Aviator was 30s and 40s Americana. Each project presented new challenges to get your head round.’

TV shows Tim has worked on include EastEnders and Doctor Who.

He says: ‘There was a big kerfuffle with David Tennant about what he would be like as the Doctor and what his costume would be. I went into the tailors at Angels and they gave me a scrap of his new suit which I told them I needed as a colour reference – but really wanted for my six-year-old nephew who was very excited about the new Doctor Who. I put the scrap of fabric in a card and sent it to him telling him it was top secret. The night the first episode was aired my sister rang and my nephew was sitting on the sofa with it curled up in his hand not showing anyone while watching David Tennant with the suit on. He had kept the secret and took it to heart.’

Tim also got a chance to appear in one scene.

He says: ‘There was a big Elizabethan episode with night shoots at the Globe Theatre in London. There were dozens of extras to costume and I was asked to go along and supervise them and the outfits.

‘It was all doublets and ruffs that had to be put on properly but it meant working all day and then all night. So I said “Don’t pay me but as my nephew is a big fan, please let me be in it.” They said “yes” so I borrowed a costume and ended up in the back row being an extra.’

Tim loved the work but found it all-consuming as he raced from one production to another. He decided to quit London and the constant treadmill and head back to his first and greatest love – the theatre.

In the last few months, that has meant Derby Theatre’s productions of Sweeney Todd and the big Christmas show – Alice in Wonderland.

Tim says: ‘Sweeney Todd was a co-production with Colchester’s Mercury Theatre – and not so long ago they wouldn’t have returned a phone call from us. The Playhouse was bust, out of money and was bad news. It took a long time but now people want to work with Derby Theatre and we are taken seriously again.’

Sweeney Todd is one of many memorable productions Tim has been involved in at Derby.

‘I loved our last Christmas show Cinderella as it had a great company vibe. Going right back to the early days, Stephen Dexter’s production of Stepping Out at the Playhouse was a completely fresh take and was a joy to see.

‘It was like that with Brassed Off more recently. We had Derwent Brass in the show and on the press night I spoke to the band leader and he was genuinely moved – he thought it might be fun but never that level of experience, getting a standing ovation every night. That has to be up there as a firm favourite.’

Tim’s biggest workload is always the Christmas show with Alice coming hot on the heels of Sweeney Todd.

He says: ‘We physically started making things at the end of September so I had to get blood and guts and meat pies from Sweeney Todd out of my head and started to think about rabbit holes and blue and white stockings. There are dozens of costumes in the show.

‘And we make everything,’ says Tim. ‘The designers want weird colours, all very trippy. There might be bits and bobs we have in store we can re-use depending on the actors’ sizes but mostly it’s all new. The costumes also get such a hammering as the actors work so hard.

‘It’s our most important show of the year. It’s where kids get their first experience of live theatre so we want to get it right. You have a duty to make sure it’s good and beautiful for all ages.’

And when audiences respond to the shows, Tim knows he has made the right choice to stick with Derby.

‘It was a hard decision,’ he says. ‘I had other theatres phone me up and I was offered film jobs. But I had made a big decision about wanting to get back to what made me happy.

‘It’s what I had a passion for, what I dreamed about as a kid and I suppose I’m stubborn – so if you say, “We have shut the theatre, you can’t do that anymore”, I want to say “Yes I can – don’t get in my way”. So I never seriously thought of giving up on Derby and the theatre and I’m very pleased I stayed.’

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