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Culture

The UK’s National Theatre Staging Homer’s Odyssey across England

LONDON – The Royal National Theatre, commonly known as the National Theatre, is staging “a multi-city Odyssey… in episodes developed with communities around England,” The Guardian reported on March 8, noting that “the production aims to tell ‘a story of resilience and healing and hope.’”

Homer’s epic will be presented in five episodes in honor of the fifth anniversary of the National Theatre’s Public Acts, a community arts program.

“In his opening monologue for The Lotus Eaters, the first episode of the National Theatre’s forthcoming multi-location production of The Odyssey, actor Tony Dudley enthuses about a statue of Perseus in Trentham Gardens on the fringes of Stoke-on-Trent,” The Guardian reported, adding that “it’s one of many ways the production is rooted in the place it was created, in order to reimagine the Greek epic for audiences across England.”

“We love doing impossible things, and we wanted to do something we’ve never attempted before,” Emily Lim, director of Public Acts, told The Guardian. “The idea of telling one story across the whole country, with lots of different communities living in lots of different places, but ultimately coming together through shared purpose and shared imagination, felt really exciting.”

“Dudley, 37, a local amateur actor who has long held a passion for Greek mythology, is a narrator for the play, which sees the Lotus Eaters’ island replaced by a nightclub,” The Guardian reported, noting that “he is part of arts organization Restoke, one of a number of partner groups the National Theatre has collaborated with on the project.”

“It’s remixing the Odyssey for modern culture,” Dudley told The Guardian. “It’s about being brave and saying ‘Let’s make something of this, and put a spin on it for the modern age.’”

“Each episode is written by a playwright based in that community, with Gabriella Gay taking the helm in Stoke,” The Guardian reported.

“We’ve done it in an interesting and different way, by co-creating it together and making sure that it was directly linked to all the people in the room and their stories,” Gay told The Guardian. “So we’ve got a really great epic story, which explicitly links to Stoke-on-Trent, but it’s also a wider and more universal story. There could be a barrier with the language, or people feeling like it was an old tale and not in their world. But picking up on the themes, people could quite easily relate that to their own experiences.”

“Playwright and lyricist Chris Bush, who has written the final episode, and is acting as dramaturg for the others, said the key to the production’s success is building authentic relationships with participants,” The Guardian reported, adding that “journeying alongside the production will be The Galley, a 10-meter longship, which will pop up in public places to collect messages of remembrance from the local community, and will act as the stage for a closing ceremony at the end of each episode.”

“The more we talked about it, and started to understand the Odyssey as a story of resilience and healing and hope, the more it felt like the right material for this moment in our country’s lifecycle,” Lim told The Guardian. “We’ve worked with people who have been very socially isolated, and people for whom this is incredibly new as an experience. It’s been inspiring to see people being so active in their communities through this project.”

The Odyssey opens on March 30 with the first episode, The Lotus Eaters, at Restoke in Stoke-on-Trent through April 2, the second episode April 15-16 in Cast, Doncaster, the third April 22-23 at Trowbridge Town Hall, the fourth April 28-29 at The Fire Station, Sunderland, and the fifth and final episode at the National Theatre in London, August 26-28.

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