Under A Cardboard Sea | 3 minutes with Assistant Composer Hal Kelly

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With just 10 days left in rehearsals before the debut of Under A Cardboard Sea, we sat down with Assistant Composer Hal Kelly for a quick behind the scenes scoop of what’s in store.


Hi there! I’m Hal Kelly, the assistant composer for this summer’s Young Company show, ‘Under A Cardboard Sea’. I’m a young theatre maker (when I say theatre maker I mean someone who makes theatre shows, not builds theatres…), having recently graduated from the Made In Bristol programme, run by the Bristol Old Vic. I was one of two musical directors in the group, and I learned a lot about composing for theatre at that time. I was also a member of the Young Company from the age of seven until I started Made In Bristol, and enjoy performing, writing, directing and pretty much anything else to do with theatre!

As assistant composer I work on the music for the show, alongside the wonderful composer-in-chief, Brian Hargreaves, a multi-instrumentalist with a vibrant, compelling song-writing style. Working with him is an absolute pleasure – he always asks for the input of the young people, allowing our musicians to try out their own ideas and have a real creative input. Throughout the process I’ve been really inspired by Brian’s composing style, and working with him is a great learning experience.

We’ve now reached the point where pretty much all of the music for the show has been written, and there are some smashing pieces – a rousing sea shanty, a melancholic lament, a carnival-style song to persuade poor children to join the theatre… There’s also material that’s been written (mostly by Brian) that won’t necessarily be used, or only part will, which is a shame. I think my favourite piece might be a song about the Pied Piper with a red hot flute solo – when Brian sent me an early version of the track in an email, I couldn’t stop listening to it!

Under a Cardboard Sea Rehearsal Room - Photographer Jack Offord - Low Res-3205   Under a Cardboard Sea Rehearsal Room - Photographer Jack Offord - Low Res-3199

The show itself is full of wacky and wonderful characters, the most inspired of which (in my opinion) is a man named Clock Face, the wicked acting master of the theatre, whose face has been partially replaced by mechanical clock parts. I love him because he was an idea quite early on that went through a number of forms: at one point we discussed the idea of an army of “clock faces”, mechanical workers controlled by the government. Another big question was “does Clock Face have an actual clock for a face?” You’ll have to see the show to find out the answer to that! If I could play any character I think I’d choose him, but I love Addie, our protagonist. She’s smart and strong, and a true hero.

Under A Cardboard Sea is a very special show to be working on, but then I’d expect nothing less from the BOV Young Company. As someone who started there at a very young age, I’ve seen it change and develop, as different directors and workshop leaders come and go, each bringing their own style. I’ve learned so much from each different leader, and that is why I owe so much to the Young Company, and in particular the Made In Bristol programme, which I see as the culmination of my time there – I would not be the person I am today without it. It’s a very special thing, and I’m proud to be part of it.


Bristol Old Vic Young Company celebrate our 250th birthday with their latest show Under A Cardboard Sea 4-6 Aug. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

Photography by Paul Blakemore and Jack Offord.

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