Innovative new music will fill the air at one of Norwich’s most historic landmarks during a special festival celebrating the arts in Norfolk.

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The story of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is to be continued in a new show – Hamlet: The Undiscovered Country – that will première at the Hostry Festival at Norwich Cathedral’s Hostry this autumn.

The show will also feature an original musical score created especially for the play and with a soundscape incorporating a unique mix of film and theatre traditions.

Chris Ellis, who lives in south Norwich, is the composer, and is relishing the challenge of echoing in music the story of the Hamlet sequel written by Stash Kirkbride and Peter Beck that sees the Bard’s well-known characters transported into an ambiguous afterlife.

Chris, a songwriter, composer and improviser of music who has written for film, theatre and TV, said: “It is very exciting. I love the original play Hamlet, I like the themes in it, and it is very interesting how they have used that as a jumping off point for this new play.

“It is a fascinating idea to re-write Hamlet and take a different perspective on the characters’ lives.”

He said he was especially interested in the multi-media nature of the project, and said one of his inspirations was filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, whose use of supporting music in films he described as “beautiful”.

Chris said: “Writing for theatre and film separately is something I have done before but this specific commission is a new departure for me because it is a multi-media piece combining the two.

“There will be video, and we also want to try this experimental idea of having on stage closely scored scenes with recorded music and live actors which is very unusual, something you would usually see in film.”

He said the musical score is a work in progress that will develop alongside the cast’s rehearsals.

“Hamlet begins this new play in a state of confusion: he’s embroiled in relationships and histories that are not of his making and are not what they appear to be,” Chris said.

“With that in mind, I’m aiming at an individual theme for the character of Hamlet, a leitmotif, that is almost obscured at first by other dissonant musical themes woven into it.

“The theme gradually emerges in greater clarity as the play progresses – mirroring Hamlet’s attempts to disentangle himself from his illusions... at least, that is the theory!”

He added: “We are looking at a sound design which conjures up a wide open space and does not necessarily define it too often in a way that the audience can grasp because Hamlet is wandering in a realm that he doesn’t understand.”

As well as creating the musical score, Chris, an English and drama graduate, will also be returning to his acting roots to play Hamlet’s friend Horatio in the show.

It will be his second acting role with the festival. Last year he performed with his father Peter Ellis – who was Chief Superintendent Brownlow in the ITV show The Bill – in the show Father and Son: Son and Father.

“I am playing Horatio who is the only guy who is a “ghost” in Hamlet: The Undiscovered Country. The roles are reversed because he is the only guy who appears who is not actually dead,” he explained.

“It is really nice to return to acting. Before Father and Son: Son and Father it was about 20 years ago I last did a full role as an actor – I was in the Bertolt Brecht play Trumpets and Drums.”

Each night, just before Hamlet: The Undiscovered Country takes to the stage, the audience will also watch Prologue by inclusive theatre company Total Ensemble, for which Chris is also writing original music.

Prologue incorporates the Elizabethan tradition of strolling players, and Chris plans to feature instruments such as pipes, a tabor, and a hammered dulcimer.

He added: “Total Ensemble are doing fantastic work. They are working on a condensed version of Hamlet in movement and have chosen a series of scenes that are key moments in Hamlet. Their work is really inspiring – sitting in rehearsal it is absolutely impossible to not be inspired to write music.

“I have done three or four pieces so far – the finale and some more pieces which belong to Ophelia and scenes of young Hamlet.”

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

emma.knights@archant.co.uk

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