Rehearsals begin this week at Cast in Doncaster, as well as in Stoke, Trowbridge, Sunderland and at the National Theatre for The Underworld, the culmination of the NT’s multi-location production of The Odyssey. The project is a joyful celebration of national community, marking the fifth anniversary of Public Acts, the NT’s nationwide programme to create extraordinary acts of theatre and community.
Written by Chris Bush, with music composed by Jim Fortune and directed by Emily Lim, The Underworld is the fifth and final episode of The Odyssey, following the first four episodes performed earlier this year including TheCyclops at Cast and others at Restoke in Stoke, Trowbridge Town Hall in Trowbridge and The Fire Station (for Sunderland Culture in partnership with Sunderland Empire) in Sunderland.
Following a close escape from the land of the Lotus-Eaters, Odysseus and their crew encounter a new foe – the one-eyed Cyclops, Polyphemus. Tensions are brewing between Odysseus and their crewmates, but when they find themselves trapped in the mysterious mansion of the Cyclops, they must all join forces to stay alive. Presented by Cast, written by Tajinder Singh Hayer.
Joining the community company at the National Theatre are 11 participants from Cast who performed in TheCyclops. The final episode brings together community performers from all previous performances as well as members recruited through Public Acts founding community partners, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, and Trybe House Theatre in London.
Joining the 50 London participants and 40 participants from the previous four locations are Amy Booth-Steel (Blue Jean) as Calypso, Tarinn Callender (Hamilton) as Telemachus, Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Dune) as Odysseus, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt (Hex) as Poseidon, Emma Prendergast (Eastenders) as Athena, and Zubin Varla(Tammy Faye) as Hades.
The fifth episode will be staged as a full-scale musical production at the National Theatre on 26-28 August 2023. Held captive by the nymph Calypso, Odysseus has all but given up hope of ever returning home. Back on Ithaca, her son Telemachus plots a rescue, and high above on Mount Olympus, the Gods convene to set her one final trial – a voyage to Hades, land of the dead.
Having acted as dramaturg on the previous four episodes, Chris Bush offers a fresh take on this final chapter of The Odyssey. The standalone production explores this universal story of resilience, loss, healing and hope, building on the stories told in the first four episodes across the country.
Journeying alongside the productions is The Galley, a 10- metre-long ship crafted from sustainable materials including bamboo and rope, representing Odysseus' epic voyage and the nationwide connection between the communities who will tell the story. The Galley has appeared in public places across the country, where members of the public were invited to write their own messages to lost loved ones and tie colourful ribbons onto the ship. The Galley will be on display at the National Theatre from 26 to 28 August, where visitors will be able to add messages of their own and contribute to this moment of national storytelling.
Playwright Chris Bush said, "I can't think of a better way to celebrate five years of Public Acts than with this truly national project, assembling our own mini pantheon of world-class artists from up and down the country. It's been a joy and a privilege to help weave this epic story together, and I can't wait for our final episode at the National Theatre this summer."
Director of Public Acts Emily Lim said, “We are so excited that the baton has been passed, and so ready to begin our leg of this epic storytelling relay across the country! We couldn't have imagined a more inspiring group of professional artists and community members to be working with to make this wild idea a reality and can't wait to be in the rehearsal room singing, dancing and feeling our way through Odysseus' journey.”
Sharon, community participant at Cast in Doncaster said, “I didn't know how much I needed the theatre until I stood on stage. It brings such balance to my very busy life, the atmosphere is so empowering, and I have found somewhere I truly fit. Having the opportunity to perform in The Underworld at the National Theatre is one I will grab with both hands. I can't wait to try a whole wealth of new experiences, meet new people, and step on stage again. I will be forever grateful to Public Acts, Cast and their commitment to community theatre.”
The creative team also includes movement director Dan Canham, set designer Sadeysa Greenaway-Bailey, music supervisor and musical director Tarek Merchant, costume designer Fly Davis, lighting designer Joshua Pharo and sound designer Paul Arditti.
Find out more about The Odyssey: Episode 5 - The Underworld