Charles Hazlewood interview: Renowned musical director talks about his latest work and much more

The Kneehigh Theatre Company returns to the Everyman this month with a new adaptation of Gunter Grass’s classic 1959 novel, ‘The Tin Drum’. 

The ‘part baroque opera, part psychedelic white-out, part epic poem’ reunites the same creative team which wowed Liverpool audiences with the acclaimed ‘Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and Other Love Songs)’ and once again includes an original score from renowned musical director Charles Hazlewood. 

We caught up with Charles to talk about his latest work, becoming the first conductor to headline a stage at Glastonbury and bringing orchestral music to the masses. 

Interview by Lawrence Saunders  

How did you go about creating the music for this production? What can people expect?

I’m not the sort of person who would write the whole score in a room on my own before I meet the company. The way I like to work is to build it up like wet clay with the actors in the space so what develops is what they give me organically.

I’m seeking to write music for each character which is really truthful and organic to that character and to the actor behind the character. It’s a case of being alive to the moment and creating the score as we go.

We don’t quite know what we’re calling this piece but it’s pretty much like an opera although it’s one which features psychedelia, R&B, soul, baroque music. It’s a really broad and eclectic mix of styles.

“Great music is nothing to do with class or background – it’s what speaks to your heart and your head”

‘The Tin Drum’ sees you link up with Kneehigh once again after ‘Dead Dog in a Suitcase’. Are you hopeful this project will prove just as popular?

I’ve been reunited with Mike Shepherd and Carl Grose and I couldn’t be happier.

I really hope this is going to be as successful. Every artist making work hopes that it’s going to speak to the maximum number of people, gain some sort of traction and add something useful to people’s lives.

Will your theatrical version of ‘The Tin Drum’ be based more on the original novel or the 1979 film of the same name?

It takes elements from the book and elements from the film. I’d say it’s more faithful to the book than the film, but we’ve decided not to deal with the long, strange, rambling last section.

In the book Oskar (main character and narrator) throws himself down a flight of stairs to freeze his body at age three but emotionally, mentally and spiritually he continues to mature.

It’s a very bizarre situation you’ve got where you have a child who still looks three but actually has the mind, the instinct and the wisdom of someone getting towards their late teens.

At the end of the day Oskar is there, certainly in our version, to offer hope more than anything else. It’s a fable but it’s also a story with tremendous heart and with hope for a better future.

Interview: Charles Hazlewood

You’ve worked on a number of projects which mix orchestral music with more popular genres and you’ve also played Glastonbury multiple times. Are you keen to bring classical music more into the mainstream?

I’d like to bring the orchestra back into the mainstream. The irony is that most people on the planet engage with orchestral music on a daily basis because they play video games and watch movies.

People have got it in their front room every day but very rarely do they have the opportunity to go and see an orchestra in the flesh. A lot of that is to do with the fact that human beings are quite tribal.

There is a small hardcore of people who consider the orchestra to be their territory and a lot of them probably don’t actually want to share it.

Often people who aren’t familiar with the orchestral world will go to a concert and feel really out of place because they don’t know how to behave and they’ll get shifty looks from those who do know how to behave and I wholeheartedly reject all of that.

Great music is nothing to do with class or background or education – it’s what speaks to your heart and your head.

How far do you think is still to go to make orchestral music more accessible to the average listener?

Look, there is still a lot of work to be done but I do believe there have been tremendous strides forward.

However there’s still a sense of a gulf between the classical going public and the rest of us, which is why it’s so important for me to do things like headline a stage at Glastonbury. I did this with my symphony orchestra last year.

Live on television and in front of a massive crowd we played a whole symphony by Phillip Glass based on the David Bowie album ‘Heroes’. There were thousands and thousands of people; punch drunk with a whole day of Glastonbury, cider and the rest of it inside them, standing in absolute silence for 45 minutes – it was incredible.

‘Dead Dog in a Suitcase’ started its super successful run in Liverpool. Are you happy to be back here again?

We love this city. There’s no one in our team who doesn’t see this city and this theatre as their favourite place. There’s something about a Liverpool audience – Liverpudlians have got such heart.

And I’m not just saying this, I’ve noticed again and again when I’ve done gigs at the Philharmonic Hall that people are willing things to be good and they really want to embrace it and give it their all.

Of course if they don’t think it’s very good they’ll say so and I like that honesty that seems to prevail here. It’s a very special city and we could not be luckier or more excited to be premiering our new baby right here.


‘The Tin Drum’ runs at the Everyman from 28 September until 14 October.


About Author: Lawrence Saunders

Lawrence is a journalist at Move Publishing. He can be contacted via email at or by phone on 0151 709 3871.