Opening at the end of the month, The National Theatre’s multi-location production of The Odyssey is currently in rehearsal at five locations across England.
The Odyssey is an epic, multi-venue production made in collaboration with hundreds of community members and professional artists from across the country. Through this landmark project, the adventures of Odysseus are reimagined for today as a universal story of resilience, loss, healing and hope.
Journeying alongside the productions, The Galley will appear in public places including markets, local beaches and parks to collect messages of remembrance from the local community. A 10-metre-long ship crafted from sustainable materials including bamboo and rope, The Galley represents Odysseus' epic voyage and the nationwide connection between the communities who will tell the story. After each of the episodes, The Galleywill transform into the stage of a closing ceremony to pass the baton of the storytelling forward.
The Odyssey will be told in five episodes taking place across the country from 30 March 2023, culminating with the final episode on the Olivier stage at the National Theatre on 26-28 August 2023.
The first four episodes are being created and performed by local artists and communities in four partner organisations across the country: Restoke in Stoke-on-Trent (30 March – 2 April), Cast in Doncaster (15–16 April), Trowbridge Town Hall in Trowbridge (22–23 April) and The Fire Station (for Sunderland Culture in partnership with Sunderland Empire) in Sunderland (28–29 April).
The production 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. The lead creative team for the project is Director of Public Acts Emily Lim, playwright and lyricist Chris Bush, who will write the final episode and act as dramaturg for the first four episodes in collaboration with playwrights from across the country, and music composer Jim Fortune who will compose music for the final episode.
A company member at Cast said, “Our rehearsal room is a space of true openness, generosity and bravery. Each week brings us closer together in telling the story of Odysseus. Our director Madeleine brings a feeling of compassion and collaboration to each session, which, as a community company, makes us feel like we’re essential in creating the world of The Odyssey."
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 writers 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."
The culmination of The Odyssey journey, the fifth episode, will be staged as a full-scale musical production at the National Theatre on 26-28 August 2023. This final production will feature community performers from all four previous episodes, as well as members recruited through Public Acts founding community partners, founding theatre partner Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, and Trybe House Theatre in London who are working with Public Acts for the first time this year. The performance will feature a total of 140 people including six professional actors, six live musicians and three cameo performance groups from across the UK.
Public Acts is supported by Arts Council England’s Strategic Touring Fund, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, The CareTech Charitable Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation, The Mosawi Foundation and The 29th May 1961 Charitable Trust.
Schedule of The Odyssey performances and The Galley appearances
Episode 1 – The Lotus Eaters at Restoke, Stoke-on-Trent
Thu 30 March 7pm, Fri 31 March 7pm, Sat 1 April 4pm & 7pm, Sun 2 April 7pm
Written by Gabriella Gay in co-creation with the community and produced by Restoke
Galley Schedule: Sat 1 April 1-7pm, Sun 2 April 5.45-7pm outside Restoke
Episode 2 – The Cyclops at Cast, Doncaster
Sat 15 April 7.30pm, Sun 16 April 2.30pm
Written by Tajinder Singh Hayer and directed by Madeleine O’Reilly
Galley Schedule: Sat 15 April 10am-2pm at Doncaster Market, 6-7.30pm outside Cast
Episode 3 – The Four Winds at Trowbridge Town Hall, Trowbridge
Sat 22 April 2.30pm & 6.30pm, Sun 23 April 2.30pm & 6.30pm
Written by Florence Espeut-Nickless and directed by Jesse Jones
Galley Schedule: Sat 22 April 12.30-8pm at Trowbridge Park
Episode 4 – The Island of the Sun at The Fire Station, Sunderland
Fri 28 April 7.30pm, Sat 29 April 6pm
Written by Lindsay Rodden and directed by Annie Rigby
Galley Schedule: Thurs 27 April early afternoon at Roker Beach, from 7pm for sunset at Penshaw Monument, Fri 28 Apr 12.30-8pm outside The Fire Station, Sat 29 Apr 4-6pm outside The Fire Station
Episode 5 – The Underworld at Olivier Theatre, National Theatre
Sat 26 August 7pm, Sun 27 August 7pm, Monday 28 August 2pm & 7pm
Written by Chris Bush, with Music by Jim Fortune and directed by Emily Lim
Photography by Joseph Lynn