In 1999, I received a small grant from the United States Institute of Theatre Technology (USITT) to research Percy Anderson, the innovative turn-of-the-century British costume designer who influenced many future designers in England as well as the United States with his attention to detail and whose works speak volumes but who is virtually unknown. He didn’t simply dress the stage. Rather, he researched the play period thoroughly and decided what colors and textures would better depict the characters on the stage. By doing so, Anderson was the first costume designer to define design elements such as line, color and texture and was the first to share his research in numerous articles.
Anderson was best known for his work for the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s company at His Majesty’s Theatre and Edwardian musical comedies.
For many years after, Anderson worked on costume designs for the Savoy Operas. His first professional design credit was for a production of The Yeomen of the Guard (1888). He also designed costumes for D’Oyly Carte revivals in the early twentieth century, including for Trial by Jury, H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, Patience, Iolanthe, Princess Ida, Ruddigore, The Yeomen of the Guard, and The Gondoliers. For Herbert Beerbohm Tree at His Majesty’s Theatre, Anderson designed Twelfth Night, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Richard II, King John, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, and two plays by Stephen Phillips, Herod and Ulysses.
Among Anderson’s other successes were Kismet (1911) and Chu Chin Chow (1916) for Oscar Asche, Trelawny of the ‘Wells’ by Pinero, Véronique (1904), Merrie England (1902) and Fallen Fairies (1909) at the Savoy, and productions of musical comedies for George Edwardes. He designed the costumes for Henry James’s ill-fated theatrical effort, Guy Domville. He also designed the costumes for the hit musical San Toy in 1899, The Duchess of Dantzic in 1903, and the hit British premiere of The Merry Widow in 1907 and for many successful musicals. Furthermore, the Royal Opera House commissioned Anderson to design costumes in 1900. Anderson’s designs were also used in a number of Broadway productions.
Anderson died in King’s College Hospital, London, in 1928.