Handling Ian McKellen's Shakespeare costume

In this ASMR video, watch and listen to Senior Textile Conservator Susana Fajardo as she works on the golden court tabard worn by Ian McKellen for his performance in Shakespeare's Richard II.

ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response – a pleasant tingling sensation beginning on the scalp and moving down the neck, which can be triggered by a delicate or satisfying auditory or visual experience.

Susana focusses on the importance of handling an object correctly and tells us about the nature of dealing with delicate theatre and performance costumes. These garments have often had many lives – having been repaired quickly for the stage and stored in ways which can make preservation difficult, so extra special care must be taken whilst in contact with them.

The costume was made for Prospect Theatre Company's 1968 production of Richard II starring 29-year-old Ian McKellen as the King. Its five week tour was such a success that a second tour was followed by a sell-out London run, it went on to tour Europe, and was filmed by the BBC in 1970, establishing McKellen as a leading actor.

Prospect was a small company with limited funds, and designer Tim Goodchild spent most of his minuscule budget on costume. Based on medieval heraldry, it looks suitably historical, but is actually made from a collage of modern materials. The basic fabric is furnishing brocade highlighted with gold paint, the heraldic lions sit on top of gold mesh, glass 'jewels', gold raffia, felt and fake leather. Coins and even metal beer-bottle tops enhance the richness, making it typical of late-1960s theatre costume design and making.

Black and white photograph of Ian McKellen in Richard II costume, sat on a wooden throne. He wears a jewelled crown, and a long tabard with patterned detailing depicting lions
Ian McKellen in costume for television drama ‘The Tragedy of King Richard II’, about 1971. © Courtesy of Getty Images. Photograph: Don Smith/Radio Times

See the court tabard in colour:

Brocade tabard, the floor-length front panel decorated with three heraldic lions, the back panel forming a train decorated all over with a diamond pattern. Appliqued with gold mesh, glass 'jewels', gold raffia, felt and imitation leather, coins and bottle tops, highlighted with gold paint. Lined with gold lamé, the lining of the train protected by a sheet of polythene.
Court tabard, worn by Ian McKellen as Richard II, designed by Tim Goodchild, Prospect Theatre Company, 1968, UK. Museum no. S.853-1981. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Find out more about the tabard in Explore the Collections.

Background image: Court tabard, worn by Ian McKellen as Richard II, designed by Tim Goodchild, Prospect Theatre Company, 1968, UK. Museum no. S.853-1981. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London