Life could have been very different for costume designer Jess Fisher.

Up until recently, she was working as a butcher’s apprentice in Great Bromley but now she’s cutting cloth instead of meat and that’s pretty much down to the wardrobe department at the Mercury.

Born and brought up in the town, and still only 22, Jess is now studying costume making at Arts University Bournemouth after spending the last few years helping the Colchester theatre produce some of their most colourful creations, which have gone on to travel all over the country and much further afield.

The former Stanway School pupil went on to study art and design at the Colchester Institute but took a very different career turn after she graduated.

“Basically my mum worked at the butchers as a shop assistant,” Jess explains, “and I thought it might be an interesting thing to do. It was an opportunity to get an insight into an industry I knew a little about but wanted to find out more, I suppose because my mum worked there.

“I ended up doing it for a year and it was fine. I did find the industry to be quite male heavy but it was great at building up my confidence and getting me talking to customers.”

Perhaps it was that new found confidence that led Jess to contact the Mercury.

“When I was at college,” she says. “I was more interested in prop making. My family and I have always loved going to the theatre, and so I was really interested in what I might be able to do in the theatre but unfortunately I couldn’t really get to grips with the skills needed to make 3D objects, which is when a tutor of mine suggested textiles. That basically opened up a whole new world to me.”

After researching it extensively, and realising the costume industry was a viable career opportunity, Jess then threw herself into making them.

“It was funny because my mum would always say to me that she could see me making something for the theatre,” she continues, “but I always thought that would be props. I never once thought that it could be costumes.”

While at college, Jess went on the lookout for experience and noticed there was an opportunity going at the local theatre.

“I saw they were looking for people who wanted to make a career in theatre for a new programme they were running,” Jess adds. “It was the Early Career Training Programme but when I went for the interview with Dan Sherer (Head of New Talent), and Daniel Buckroyd (the Mercury’s former artistic director) they said they were really looking for actors, directors and writers.

“They were brilliant though because they put me in touch with Corinna Vincent, who is the wardrobe manager at the Mercury, and she invited me in to do some work experience.”

And Jess hasn’t looked back since.

“I would go in once a week, while I was doing the butchery,” she says, “which was a little odd. I started off doing little jobs, one of which was putting the buttons on a costume for the production of End of the Rainbow. I must admit when I saw that costume on stage I did think to myself, I want to do this for a job.”

It wasn’t long before she had earnt the trust of the department to try and make bigger garments, and then eventually her first full costume on the theatre’s biggest show, the pantomime, for their production of Dick Whittington back in 2016.

“It was Dale’s (Superville) slosh costume,” Jess explains. “That’s the scene where they throw lots of slime and goo over each other so it had to be hard wearing. To be fair all panto costumes have to hard wearing but that was getting stuff thrown all over it. Making that costume was a really proud moment.”

Jess then went on to make a couple of costumes, the Knights of Ni and Herbert’s Dad, for the Mercury’s co-production of smash hit musical, Spamalot, which went on a UK tour and then played in theatres in South Korea.

“I’ve gone international,” she grins, “how mad is that? Now I’m at university learning all the skills I need to get a job in the industry, and that’s thanks to Corinna as well, because she went to this university herself and told me it’s the best place to go.

“Working with the Mercury has given me an incredible start to my career. They have pushed me right from the start and given me loads of big breaks, I couldn’t have wished for more.

“I’m currently in my second year but after I’ve graduated I’m definitely going to try and find a job perhaps in film or television, and hopefully back at the Mercury.”