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Student costume designer dresses Water Lane Theatre Company's Much Ado About Nothing with a Wild West twist

Designing and making bespoke costumes for a Shakespearean comedy with a Wild West twist would be a daunting task – but a Bishop's Stortford student relished the challenge.

Sam Hobart, 19, a Herts and Essex High School alumna, has created the costumes for Water Lane Theatre Company's forthcoming Bishop's Stortford and Harlow outdoor production of Much Ado About Nothing, which has been adapted for an 1870s America setting.

Sam, who lives just off Thorley Hill, is studying costume design for theatre and screen at Wimbledon College of Arts, part of the esteemed University of the Arts London, which is ranked second in the world for art and design.

"I've just finished the first year of my university degree. It's been really fun," she said. "Just in my first year I've learned really prestigious skills... I've learned how to make bespoke corsets for women."

This is a skill that Sam has been able to put into practice with Water Lane, the Stortford amateur drama group.

The partnership came about when Sam set about trying to find costume design work to fill her lengthy summer holiday.

"I wrote an email to a number of the local theatre companies and Andy [Roberts], the director, said 'Yeah, we'd love your help'. I didn't expect any of them to reply or to take me on," she said.

She would have been happy just to help out behind the scenes, but she was invited to come up with some rough designs for the cast. When she showed her sketches to Andy, he gave her the go-ahead to produce the outfits.

"Because we had such a limited budget – we worked out we had about £20 per character – I decided that making the women's costumes from scratch would be the cheapest and best way of doing things," said Sam.

Her frilly and vibrant women's dresses are all made to measure. Sam bought her fabric in large quantities and spent three full days constructing each gown before presenting the Water Lane actresses with their costumes. "I was a bit nervous, but they really loved them," she said.

For the male characters' wardrobe, Sam was able to buy a lot of stock from various Stortford charity shops. She purchased cotton shirts for the actors and customised them to fit the era, by adding or removing pockets and adjusting the collars.

She made all the men's waistcoats from scratch – much of the fabric for which has been sourced by cutting up ladies' skirts.

Sam has been supported by her proud mother, Annette Hobart, in making the costumes over the past two months. "My mum's always wanted to learn how to sew so I've taught her. We've learned loads of new skills together on such a tight running schedule," she said.

Annette, who works for Islington Town Council, sparked her daughter's passion for costume design a decade ago when they watched the TV adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Sam fell in love with the intricately-made Regency era dresses. "I'd wanted to do costume design ever since," she said.

As a 16-year-old pupil at Herts and Essex High, she entered a Royal Opera House competition to create a costume for the eponymous heroine in Puccini's Madama Butterfly.

"I was up against some brilliant, brilliant costumes and mine was chosen, short-listed and commended," she said. "I was the youngest person who'd ever entered the competition."

As part of her prize, Sam was invited to see her work, an elaborate kimono, exhibited alongside those of the other entrants, most of whom were in their 30s. She also got to see the opera itself.

Much Ado About Nothing

Water Lane's outdoor production of Much Ado About Nothing runs for five evenings over the next two weekends.

Audiences are invited to take their own picnics, chairs and rugs.

It opens at the Gibberd Garden in Marsh Lane, Old Harlow (CM17 0NA) this weekend, Saturday and Sunday (July 12-13), with performances at 5.30pm. The lawn will be open to ticket holders from 4.30pm. Drinks, cakes and ice cream will be for sale in the Barn Tea Room.

The following week, the production moves to Stortford, with performances in the Monastery Garden in Windhill – behind St Michael's and St Joseph's churches – over three evenings from Thursday to Saturday (July 18-20) at 7.30pm. Gates open to picnickers at 6pm.

This production is being sponsored by Twisted Cellar, the wine and spirits merchant and wine bar in South Street, which will be operating a mobile bar from a vintage Citroen van.

Tickets for both productions cost £6 from Bishop's Stortford Tourist Information Centre in Market Square, the Bishop's Stortford Independent office in North Street and online atwww.waterlanetheatrecompany.co.uk (booking fee applies). Alternatively, they will be available on the door for £7.

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