Directors Blog Take Over!! Confessions of a Teenage Troll

It ain’t fair. Your mum and dad always going on an’ on at you: “Where you bin? What time do you call dis? What is dat you wearing? Is dat lichen? All de other girls polish, so why not you?” And the boyz think they is so smart and tuff, wavin’ thez new clubs at me with stoopid grins on thez stoopid faces. “Hey Jade!” dey shout. “Bangin’ mossylocks! Wanna get groophy wid us?” Huh. In thez dreamz! But I show them ALL good. I gonna run away and join de army, leave dis boring stoopid valley and see der world! No more naggy parents! No more stoopid boyz! I gonna see excitin’ forrin places and meet erotic people!
During the auditions I specifically asked if I could play Carborundum (actually Jade) the troll, even though I knew the role had very few lines and involved a lot of standing around. My motive was that I really wanted to have some fun creating an awesome troll costume. Had I made anything like this before? No, but that was going to be half the fun!

The first step (this is a pun, or play on words) was to build some platform shoes to make myself even taller; I am six foot four anyway, but wanted to be at least seven feet tall on stage. An earlier blog post has a photo of my first attempt, which worked but were far too heavy! I remade them using a box structure and thinner plywood, and managed to reduce their weight by more than half.

I’d decided to adopt an agile project management strategy (i.e. making it up as I went along) and was puzzling how the exterior of the feet would look when Adam Taussik gave me two cushions from his old car; the idea was to use the foam inside them as padding for the troll’s body. On closer inspection the rear of the cushions was made from grey plastic leather, and when cut out these panels turned out to be exactly the right size for the feet, and made them look like very big hooves! This was obviously ‘meant to be’.

Plan A was to glue foam from the cushions all over a boiler suit, and then spray paint it to look like rock, but a trip to FabricLand in town led to a much better plan B. I found an ‘end of roll’ stretchy jersey in an amazing pattern called ‘Oil Slick Shimmer’ which was perfect as troll skin. I bought all they had – just over 3 metres – and hoped that it would be enough. I contacted FabricLand’s main depot in Ringwood, and Maxine was fantastically helpful – she contacted their other stores for me and confirmed that I had the very last length… so it would just have to do. And it did… just. I have just a few tiny scraps left over, so again this was obviously ‘meant to be’. 

Plan B involved me sewing tubes of the jersey to stretch-fit over the foam-padded arms, legs and body, as well as the head and hands. This was only the second time I have used a sewing machine (I made a green felt Wizzard hat last year) but after some puzzlement over threading our classic 70’s Frister & Rossmann 45 (thank goodness someone took photos of the manual and put them online) I was away!

I decided early on that the head would completely cover me; I’d looked at photos of ‘open face’ troll heads from other productions of Monstrous Regiment, and although they were mostly very good, I wanted to give Jade a real sense of ‘otherness’; she is not like the others and is always an outsider – even Maladict the vampire and Igor are essentially human. Imogen shared some drawings of lumpy troll faces from the Discworld wiki and I drew on those for inspiration, especially their epic jutting chins.

I started with a cycle helmet and attached a plastic-and-cardboard framework for the chin. I wanted the jaw to move as I talked, so knicker elastic is used to hold it in tension against my chin – simple! Then I built up the shape with foam and covered it with fabric before moving on to the details. An old pair of sunglasses provided the black shiny eyes, and a trip up to the loft discovered some beautiful Icelandic wool for the mossy locks. Model railway lichen completes the look, but is difficult to glue on and will need frequent attention during the run. 

I tried the complete costume for the first time during a recent rehearsal and found that the head is hot to wear and prone to steaming up, which makes it difficult to see. I’ve installed a ‘breathing tube’ which minimises the problem – this looks like a single nostril – and have even bought a small fan designed to cool laptops which I hope will aid airflow across my face. And of course I’ll be able to take the headpiece off whenever I’m not on stage. All this has given me a real sense of admiration for those nameless actors from Dr Who episodes over the decades who have trudged around a brightly lit studio, sweating in their full ‘alien’ costumes!

Needless to say, I don’t want to give a great big spoiler by showing photos of the whole costume here, so come along to the show and meet the fabulous Jade, who knows her own mind, makes her own choices and is really quite petite and slender as trolls go. Go Girl!