THEY bring stage shows to life and are part of the fabric of the Octagon Theatre.

Now the beautiful costumes used in productions at the Bolton town centre theatre are on display for all to see.

The eye catching garments, which have played starring roles in some of the theatre's biggest shows including Hindle Wakes, Hobson's Choice and The Winslow Boy, can be viewed at a unique exhibition.

Visitors can examine the intricate costumes as well as learning about how particular eras — from 18th century Norway to 1960s Bolton — are captured down to the tiniest detail.

The event will further reveal the relationship between a production's designer and the wardrobe department, who are often required to hand-make one-off outfits for particular actors, create intricate, period hairstyles and even use makeup to fashion realistic cuts and bruises.

Wardrobe assistant Su Newell, who has worked at the theatre for four years, said: "The idea behind the exhibition is to explore how costumes support the characters. It's not just about whacking any old clothes onto an actor. It's a collaboration between actor, director, designer and costume maker. We never say, 'you're wearing that, no question'. We work together to find what's best. It is important how the actors feel about the costumes and how it helps them find their character.

"I think with costume it's almost like the audience shouldn't notice it — the idea is it fits in perfectly with the settings, and if it stands out for any reason then it probably isn't right."

The exhibition runs alongside a series of talks, led by Ms Newell, which explore the role of costume in theatre, from design sketches to opening night, revealing how costumes are made, how quick-changes take place — and why zips are absolutely forbidden.

She said: "We use all kinds of garments, from high street clothes to vintage pieces which we adapt to fit the character. They can make a big difference in the way the actor performs, especially the corset. That can affect the way you speak, sit and walk around.

"We try to avoid zips, certainly for quick costume changes. They're too much of a risk. In the BFG one of the zips broke and I had to stitch Sophie into the clothes quickly then, for the next performance, I added buttons instead."

The Fabric of the Theatre talks take place on February 4, 5, 12 at 2pm and at 3pm on February 15 at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton. To book a free place, call 01204 520661.