Take a break from screens with these literary greats that inspired West End plays and musicals.
World Book Day is a staple of the school social calendar. A charity event funded by publishers and booksellers in the UK & Ireland, it invites both children and adults to dress up as their favourite fictional character from literature on the first Thursday of March.
Ahead of 2020’s event on Thursday 5 March, we have scoured some of the West End’s most exciting productions and selected some great costume ideas to choose from to get you back in the good books.
Ideal if time is short, this costume lends itself to speed due to Cosette being primarily dressing in rags – so finding some old clothes to chop up should be fairly simple. Cosette wears muted, dark or brown coloured garments, preferably oversized that can be cut up to look tattered. Perhaps a peasant blouse and pair of cropped trousers, or a tattered dress. Add a flat cap, apron and small sweeping brush if available.
Les Mis has been a West End mainstay since 1985 – and is currently showing at The Sondheim Theatre. The story, taken from Victor Hugo’s 19th-century novel, follows French peasant Jean Valjean on his quest for redemption following years in jail. He also cares for an orphaned child, Cosette. [Find Tickets]
The much-loved Roald Dahl novel details the life of a young genius girl named Matilda Wormwood, who develops psychokinetic abilities and uses them to deal with her cruel, unappreciative family and Agatha Trunchbull, the tyrannical headteacher of her school. The costume is simple enough; think blue dress, white socks, a red ribbon for hair and plenty of books. As an extra, a (fake) newt in a jar is a fun addition.
Matilda The Musical came to the West End in 2011 and has called the Cambridge Theatre home since then. [Find Tickets]
Dressing up as Scout Finch, the tomboy youngest daughter of Atticus in Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning story, can easily be pulled together from items already at the home.
Known for wearing denim overalls, a checked-shirt, and accessories including coins or chewing gum, the outfit can be thrown together with minimal effort. If there’s time, Scout also attends a pageant dressed as a cooked ham, a costume made using chicken wire and papier-mache.
Adapted for the stage by Aaron Sorkin, To Kill A Mockingbird comes to London and will star Rhys Ifans as Atticus Finch during its West End run at the Gielgud Theatre later this year. [Find Tickets]
The two brothers from The Prince Of Egypt, the new musical from three-time Academy Award winner Stephen Schwartz (Wicked), can be achieved by recycling a nativity costume. For Moses dress up robes with a belt and add a staff or large stick. For Rameses use the cardboard from a cereal box to create an Egyptian headdress, paired with a white dress, shirt, tunic or sheet and gold accessories.
The Prince Of Egypt is now open in the West End for a limited season until October 2020. [Find Tickets]
Jazz up a classic school uniform with a striped scarf in your Hogwarts House colours and a black robe or cape and a magic wand to transform into a student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Nodding back to the original, any of the big three make for an instantly recognisable costume.
For Hermione carry a book, or bring a ginger stuffed cat along. For Harry add glasses and a lightning bolt scar, and for Ron, show off your freckles and add a toy rat. There’s also Luna Lovegood – who’s known for her bottle cork necklace. Whether you’re nodding back to the originals or trying something new, the costumes are straightforward and fun.
Taking place nineteen years after the events of the 2007 novel Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Cursed Child play is the eighth official story in the Harry Potter series with a score written by Imogen Heap. It follows Harry Potter and his younger son Albus Severus Potter, who is about to attend Hogwarts. [Find Tickets]
Based on the gothic novel by Susan Hill, the stage play has been in London since 1989 and is considered one of the most terrifying live theatre productions around. While Halloween is a long way off, the vengeful ghost of a scorned woman is alive and well. This costume can be created using a black period-style dress, a veil and some white face paint. If a dress is hard to find, all-black clothing would also work.
Often on the curriculum for many schools, it’s both topical and frightfully fun. [Find Tickets]
A classic character from literature, the phantom is suitable for teachers and students alike. Source a white mask to cover half the face, grab a black cape, white gloves and maybe a rose to carry and it’s good to go.
Based on the French novel by Gaston Leroux, Andrew Lloyd Webbers’ adaption of The Phantom of the Opera came to the stage in 1986 and has never left. The central plot revolves around soprano, Christine Daaé, who becomes the obsession of a mysterious, disfigured musical genius living in the subterranean labyrinth beneath the Paris Opéra House. [Find Tickets]
A fun one for the younger children, this costume is bright and can involve an afternoon of crafting. Create a DIY tail and cat ears from cardboard to pair with orange clothing, and use felt tips or black card to make stripes. Paint the face orange and white, not forgetting to add the tiger stripes and whiskers.
The much-loved children’s book, written and illustrated by Judith Kerr, has been adapted and directed for stage by David Wood. The play, like the picture book, follows a little girl named Sophie and her mother, who have their lunch interrupted by an unexpected visitor. [Find tickets]
The easiest way to nail the Romeo & Juliet costume is to go down the route of Leo DiCaprio and Clare Danes in Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film version, a turquoise Hawaiian shirt for Romeo and a white dress and angel wings for Juliet. If you’d prefer to go classical, medieval period clothing may be available to rent from a fancy-dress shop. To switch it up like the WhatsOnStage award-winning costume design for & Juliet, pair your brightly coloured doublet and hose with trainers, or sport shiny track pants and a sleeveless denim jacket.
The latest take on the Shakespeare classic, & Juliet is infused with the biggest pop bangers from Max Martin, including Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Bon Jovi and more, is now showing at London’s Shaftsbury Theatre [Find Tickets]
Based on L. Frank Baum’s 1900, the origin story of two of Oz’s most famous residents and the representation of good v evil makes for a great costume idea, especially in pairs.
Go green to become Elphaba, the Wicked Witch Of The West by recycling a Halloween costume or sourcing a black dress, some black tights, a witches hat and lots of green face-paint. Or glitter up with a sparkly party dress or ball gown and transform into Glinda The Good Witch, with accessories including a wand and a crown. [Find Tickets]
Mary Poppins is never without her umbrella, or a timeless coat. If a period costume style dress isn’t an option, a long blue dress, or a white blouse, blue skirt and apron will do the job. Pin the hair up into a bun and add a long blue or red overcoat and an umbrella to finish. Plus, if you’re feeling a little bitter, a spoon and a small bag of sugar is advised.
The series of novels by P.L.Travers which have since been adapted into numerous Disney films and now a stage show starring Zizi Strallen in the titular role, Mary Poppins follows the magical nanny, who spreads happiness to everyone she meets. [Find Tickets]
Whether you go down the route of Cruella and require a two-tone wig, a cigarette holder, a dash of red lippy and faux fur jacket, or you’d rather go for her so-called furry enemies and simply delightful Dalmatian puppies, these are costumes that require some minor planning.
Much like The Tiger Who Came To Tea, creating a puppy costume will likely include some crafting. A make-shift tail, some floppy puppy ears, white clothing and some black polka dot spots all over. Paint the face with white face-paint and add black spots to finish it off.
Based on the 1956 book by Dodie Smith, it has been adapted into both a Disney animated and live-action film, as well as a play coming to the Regents Open Air Theatre in May & June. [Find tickets]
Immerse yourself in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, and the glitz and glamour of 1920’s New York.
The glittering parties at his Long Island Mansion were a thing of envy, the sparking costumes, however, can be easily replicated to celebrate world book day. Try a 1920’s flapper girl with a beaded dress, velvet hairband, a feather boa or fashion yourself a sharp three-piece suit or tuxedo with loafers or two-tone brogues then slick back your hair or don a flat cap.
And then, taking place at Gatsby’s Drugstore until May, attend the immersive experience this spring. [Find Tickets]
For more great costume ideas, and witness the inspirations live on stage, check out our West End Theatre Guide .