New take on Hamlet at Norwich arts festival

Tom Harper, playing the lead in Hamlet: The Undiscovered Country at the Hostry Festival.  Photo: Bill Smith Tom Harper, playing the lead in Hamlet: The Undiscovered Country at the Hostry Festival. Photo: Bill Smith

Friday, September 28, 2012
12:00 PM

The last time actor Tom Harper played Hamlet he was a drama school student and now, years later with an array of TV, film and stage credits under his belt, he is enjoying returning to the role of the Prince of Denmark in an entirely new show.

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Hamlet: The Undiscovered Country extends the story of the Shakespearean tragedy, asking what could have happened next if the characters were to meet again after death, and it has been written by Stash Kirkbride and Peter Beck to premiere at the Hostry Festival this October.

Rehearsals started a few weeks ago and 37-year-old Tom, who lives in the Golden Triangle, in Norwich, with his wife Ruth and three children, said he was having a great time playing Hamlet once more.

“It is always going to be a challenge taking on Hamlet because it’s Hamlet, but then this is also not Hamlet. It is taking the characters from the play and putting them in a different situation.

“Hamlet’s dead, but is he dead? It’s kind of fun, it is bonkers really,” said Tom, who trained at Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art.

“I played Hamlet ages ago at drama school when I was much younger. I have more of a reflective perspective of Hamlet now, so I have to try and ‘youth him up a bit,’ make him more naive and innocent for the show.”

Tom, a professional actor for the past 12 years, has performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company, appeared in TV dramas such as Poirot, Foyle’s War, Judge John Deed, Spooks, Silent Witness and Midsomer Murders, and across the Atlantic acted in films such as The Upside of Anger starring Kevin Costner and Telstar: The Joe Meek Story, with Kevin Spacey.

He said he was pleased to be working closer to home for his latest role, which he explained was the second time he has been involved in the Hostry Festival, and he also paid tribute to the festival’s founders Stash Kirkbride, Peter Barrow, Peter Beck and Rebecca Chapman.

“With the festival they are creating something special for Norwich to deepen the arts and culture already here in Norwich.

“It takes real guts to do what they are doing, and huge amounts of enthusiasm, and when you are working with them their enthusiasm is infectious,” he said.

“I met Peter Beck ages ago in an acting workshop in Norwich, and about two year’s ago I got a text from him saying ‘would you be interested in doing a show here in Norfolk?’

“The script was The Rainmaker (the 2011 Hostry Festival headline show). It was a gorgeous script, and my character was a Wild West American 1930s trickster who reckoned he could make it rain by shouting at the sky. It was a really great project to be involved in.

“After that show Stash said he had an exciting 2012 project and would I like to be involved, and I said yes, and so here we are doing this interesting version of Hamlet.

“I think it is brilliant. It is audacious. It is exciting and a really interesting experiment.”

He added: “It is interesting how the play questions decisions and the way our lives are affected by the decisions we make and the kind of people we become as a result of the decisions.

“It is almost like it pushes the characters (from the original Hamlet) a bit further than before.

“It is like they are cycling on an exercise bike in the original play and in Hamlet: The Undiscovered Country someone has suddenly increased the speed.”

Tom, who this summer has been working with The Globe Theatre on productions of The Taming of A Shrew, a show written prior to Shakespeare’s version, and Beggar’s Bush, which was also performed at Latitude, said that with the Hostry Festival production he was enjoying working with a mix of professional actors and also people who enjoy performing in their spare time.

He said: “Doing this is very different to other theatre work I have done because it is a mixture of professionals and those who don’t do this as a day job.

“The enthusiasm is really powerful because people are doing what they love, and they don’t get to do it every day, whereas in London, when people are doing what they do every day, it can get taken for granted.”

He added: “This is the third week of rehearsals. We are still in the process of blocking, working out how to set the action to the words and the words to the actions.

“I am excited about the show. I think there are some really lovely moments in the play and there are still more ideas to follow and more discoveries to make about what is going on.”

Whatever the finished result is, Tom believes the audience will be in for a treat.

“They should expect to be moved, inspired and intrigued – and then go back and see the original Hamlet somewhere,” he said.

Hamlet: The Undiscovered Country and Prologue double bill is being sponsored by Fosters Solicitors and the John Jarrold Trust. Performances take place from October 30 until November 3 at 7.30pm each night. Tickets £15. To book call 01603 218450 or visit www.hostryfestival.org

The 2012 Hostry Festival will take place from October 26 until November 4. For more details visit www.hostryfestival.org Tickets can be bought at the cathedral shop or on 01603 218450.

emma.knights@archant.co.uk

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