Creating The Sound of Malory Towers | Q&A with Ian Ross

16 Jul 2019

This summer, Wise Children are transforming Bristol's Passenger Shed into the Cornish clifftops of Malory Towers. Directed by Emma Rice, this first-ever stage adaptation of Enid Blyton's nostalgic novels will hit the stage from 19 Jul. 

We sat down with the show's composer Ian Ross to find out more about what has gone in to creating the sound of Malory Towers.

What’s your starting point when composing a show?

I try to think broadly about the themes of the story first, to sense how they might be harmonically, stylistically. Maybe these themes or certain characters have a musical signature that might be a melody or a chord change. 

I try to have lots of simple ideas that can layer with each other so they can be richer and more complex. Often there are lyrics too and a song is a great place to start for generating ideas for themes.

Who are your influences?

Danny Elfman, Björk, Mozart, Tom Waits and Nina Simone.

What’s your favourite instrument?

The piano. 

This is your second show with Wise Children – how does it feel to be back in the rehearsal room?

Marvellous. I’ve been working with Emma in various roles for nearly 12 years and the first part of rehearsal is the best for me. You get to throw a ball around, laugh and run about getting to know everybody and their skills. As a composer it’s the same with ideas, it’s a chance to get as many sounds, songs and themes in the air as possible: see what flies and see what falls. It’s generous and explorative and really good fun. Of course, things get more serious as we approach opening but the initial feeling remains bubbling under the surface. It’s great to start with the feelings, details come later.

Malory Towers in rehearsals. Photography by Steve Tanner

What are some of your favourite shows you’ve composed for and why?

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk was my first job that I felt properly ready for, a story about the artist Marc Chagall and his wife Bella. A version existed twenty years previously and they had used some fantastic Tchaikovsky and close harmony Russian and Georgian vocal pieces. Also, some traditional Yiddish tunes. It was a dream palette that I was given free rein to experiment with. Something resonated with me in their story of fleeing war, remaining in love for a lifetime and pursuing expression through art. I wrote some original pieces and the amazing vocals of Audrey Brisson and Marc Antolin made it a dream.

What are the challenges of adapting these particular books into a play?

None! It’s a joy.

What sort of music can audiences expect to hear in Malory Towers?

A swinging, gut wrenching, euphoric, choral, crunchy celebration of the voice!

What’s it like composing for The Passenger Shed?

I haven’t composed specifically for this building but we’re aware that it’s a big space that will get busy acoustically so we’ll try to be precise and clear.

What’s your favourite memory from your time at school?

Learning the trombone.

Quick Fire Round:

Jam first or clotted cream first?


Lacrosse or tennis?


Sneaking out early or midnight feasts?

Sneaking out early! 

Sardines or custard?


Cliff-diving or horse-riding?


Head Boy or School Rebel?

Rebel with a prefect badge.  

You can catch Wise Children's Malory Towers at The Passenger Shed from Fri 19 Jul – Sun 18 Aug. Tickets are available here