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WATCH: Here's how actors transform themselves backstage...

We peek behind the curtain.

IMG_4267 Source: Aoife Barry/TheJournal.ie

ACTING IS ABOUT transformation.

Backstage at the Abbey Theatre, the man entrusted with helping in the physical transformation of its actors is Val Sherlock.

IMG_4293 Source: Aoife Barry/TheJournal.ie

Their long-time make-up artist, he also hand-makes the wigs they wear, spending hours creating hairstyles that look totally natural.

These aren’t the coarse, unflattering wigs you find in joke shops. This is the real deal.

Barry McGovern and Gina Moxley in Abbey Theatre's new production of A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare Pic Ros Kavanagh Source: Ros Kavanagh

The latest play on the Abbey stage is Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of the bard’s most popular comedies.

Whereas you would normally associate this play with young people, for this production its director Gavin Quinn of Pan Pan Theatre has chosen an older cast, some of whom were in the Abbey’s 1979 production of the same play.

IMG_4276 Source: Aoife Barry/TheJournal.ie

Sherlock was on hand to create the tresses needed to complete each actor’s look.

Changing faces 

IMG_4299 Val Sherlock's studio Source: Aoife Barry/TheJournal.ie

All of the wigs are made with repurposing in mind. “I can’t just use it once and go ‘that’s that used’,” explained Val. “They take 40 hours to make.”

All of the individual hairs are hand sewn in, so there is a natural hairline. Light lace at the front of the hairline is glued down, and is so fine it can’t be seen by the audience.

The wigs are cleaned after each wear, using water and shampoo.

Here’s what they look like before the hair is sewed in.

wig gif

They’re made with different types of hair, including de-cuticleised Asian hair, synthetic hair (which is not reusable), and even yak hair, which is naturally coarser.

This can be tricky to use, but is often employed for facial hair or sewed into the back of human hair wigs to add bulk.

John Kavanagh, Gina Moxley and Barry McGovern in Abbey Theatre's new production of A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare Pic Ros Kavanagh John Kavanagh, Gina Moxley and Barry McGovern Source: Ros Kavanagh

“Wigs still haven’t changed too much,” explained Sherlock. “We’re still using similar tools to what they used 100, 200 years ago. Obviously we have better tools, better polymer, better fine laces.”

Some wigs are worn like a hat, while others grip onto the wearer’s own hair.


We visited before opening night to watch as Gina Moxley became Helena. The wig Val used for Helena is on the left, with the original choice (which is seen in the photo above) on the right:

abbey wig 3

First, he preps and ties back the hair.

abbey wig 2

Then he puts on the band – often taken from stockings – to pin the hair back, and pins that too:

abbey band

Then he puts on the wig, adjusting and pinning as needed, to make sure it fits perfectly:

abbey wig on proper

More adjusting:

abbey wig 6

The final product:

IMG_4270 Source: Aoife Barry/TheJournal.ie

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs until Saturday 28 March 2015. Tickets cost from €13 – €40. For more details, or bookings, visit the Abbey Theatre website.

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