On 17 June 2018, Early Music ensemble Ceruleo will present the first performance in an eleven-date UK-wide tour of Burying the Dead – a new ‘theatre show for the 21st century’ by author Clare Norburn on the life of the great 17th century British composer Henry Purcell.
Burying the Dead takes the audience on a fictional journey inside the head of composer Henry Purcell (1659-1695) and gives a first-person account of the Fire of London, behind the scenes of the Restoration Theatre and the vibrant taverns and streets of London, with live music of the period performed by rising star ensemble Ceruleo.
Directed by Thomas Guthrie, Burying the Dead stars actors Niall Ashdown and Simon Cole sharing the role of Henry Purcell across the tour, with period costumes designed by Hannah Pearson and lighting by Pitch Black Lighting.
Purcell is in his final illness, suffering from feverish dream-like hallucinations in which the past, present and fantasy collide, and his songs take on a life of their own, sometimes sung by characters and actresses, but sometimes by real life characters. Many of the scenes look backwards – to his first meeting with his wife and to his childhood: his father’s death when he was five, the Plague a year later – and particularly the Great Fire (where the work explores an imaginary secret which Purcell has kept hidden).
Set in his bedroom, Purcell takes us into the ‘theatre of his mind’ complete with a band and singers, Emily Owen and Jenni Harper, who transform into Purcell’s wife Frances, and young singer Letitia Cross, amongst others.
Playwright, Clare Norburn, said: ‘Researching the life and music of Henry Purcell has been an interesting project with much of it taken up with playing the role of detective as I tried to piece together the clues that give us even the smallest of insights into the man behind the music and what his personality might have been like. From the fact that Purcell worked and flourished under the patronage of three monarchs, assigning full allegiance to each, I felt that not only must he have been a very dedicated musician, but also quite an easy-going man skilled at walking the tricky tightropes of politics and religion that occurred during his time. The concept of setting much of the action in a kind of ‘theatre of the mind’ takes its inspiration from Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective. Purcell’s final illness and night sweats provide a framework in which his dreams, present and deep-seated memories of his past jostle for airtime. He is also haunted by a hooded character from his childhood who holds great meaning for him. Ultimately, it’s a kind of Purcell theatre show for the 21st century – a theatrical vehicle for Purcell’s stage songs, many of which are not usually performed in a theatrical context today.’
Emily Owen, singer and founding member of Ceruleo, said: ‘As an ensemble, Ceruleo have always taken a dramatic approach to our concerts often using spoken texts alongside the music to illustrate and bring to life our performances. It was an obvious next step to work with Clare who has built such a reputation for her ‘concert-plays’ and this work will give audiences a fresh approach to the music of Henry Purcell, and which we hope will bring new audiences to experience his stunning music.’