Norwich Cathedral takes a starring role in a new twist to Hamlet

From the palace of Elsinore to Norwich Cathedral, audiences will be transported into a mysterious new world when they watch a new play about what might have happened after the closing scene of Shakespeare's Hamlet.

The show Hamlet: The Undiscovered Country is to premiere at the Hostry Festival at Norwich Cathedral this autumn, and as well as being a co-writer of the play, Wymondham-based Peter Beck has also been busily creating the visual world that the audience will be drawn into after they take their seats.

Peter, who is also taking the role of Claudius in the play, said he was excited to have the cathedral as part of the play's backdrop.

He said: 'The cathedral is a fantastic setting. The really interesting thing for me is that theatre in England started in churches and cathedrals, that you had that period hundreds and hundreds of years ago where the church was starting to dramatise their sermons for a fairly illiterate population.

'Out of that came the Passion Plays, and there is one play that is possibly related to Norwich – The Grocers Play from The N-Town plays.

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'Then the church moved away from theatre and you started to get the playhouses, but theatre in England very much started in the church.

'In a way drama has always been associated with the church and it is really interesting that here we are, hundreds of years later, at Norwich Cathedral putting on theatre again.'

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He said while the show was set in an ambiguous afterlife where the characters of Hamlet are brought back to life after the tragic final scene of the original play, he was also keen for the cathedral's architecture to be a key part of the set design.

'Norwich Cathedral is such a brilliant setting that we want to make sure the audience are conscious of being around its wonderful architecture which is so imposing, with the wonderful big spire and the big Norman brickwork,' said Peter. 'The audience will also be able to see the cathedral being lit up as night falls while they are watching the play, and Total Ensemble will start their piece, Prologue (a movement sequence which precedes the main show), outside the building, with the audience looking through the glass at them in the grounds and then they will come in to the Hostry like a band of strolling players.'

During the main show directed by co-writer Stash Kirkbride, film involving the characters, and scene-setters of clouds and rain and other elements will also be projected onto the cathedral's walls as the ancient architecture is blended with the set of an apocalyptic and dilapidated world. Peter has constructed this world over the past two weeks in Stew studios, Fishergate, with the help of Nick de Spon, who is also playing an attendant in the show, and Evan Ryder, who will play Laertes and is choreographing the stage fighting scenes.

About the overall set design, Peter said: 'The idea of the set was that it is a dilapidated palace that has gone through some kind of Armageddon and is covered in thick grey dust, and then these characters that have come into this world and are creating a new life in it are putting it back together. We wanted to create a vast empty landscape for the characters entering the new world, and for the audience to feel as if something very mysterious and apocalyptic has happened there.'

As well as creating the setting, peter is also playing a key role in coordinating the costumes, most of which are being borrowed from the Maddermarket Theatre's wardrobe department.

In keeping with the dusty, apocalyptic setting, Peter said the costumes, which he described as 'turn of the century but with a bit of artistic licence,' are being made to look dishevelled, dirty and ragged by the costume team which includes Lucy Pegg, Hetty Rance, and Rachel Harrison. With his three hats on of designer, scriptwriter and actor, Peter, who previously directed a production of the original Hamlet at the Maddermarket, said his involvement in the new show was a real labour of love.

'I think it is a really fascinating idea – we are playing with what people might have known or think they know about the characters in the original play, we have turned a few things on their heads, and all is not what it seemed so that is an interesting experiment.

'There are so many theories about Hamlet – was the ghost real or in Hamlet's mind? Is Hamlet mad or is he sane but put upon by those around him? The beauty of it is that it creates so much debate.'

The set of Hamlet: The Undiscovered Country is due to be installed in Norwich Cathedral's Hostry on the weekend before the opening night of October 30, and Peter said he was looking forward to seeing all the elements of the production fitted together.

The double bill of Hamlet: The Undiscovered Country and Total Ensemble's Prologue 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

The 2012 Hostry Festival is from October 26 until November 4. For more details about the festival programme visit

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