Homer’s ancient epic, The Odyssey, is about to get dusted off and retold as part of a landmark project by the National Theatre.
Taking place across the country, the show will be staged in four separate episodes in Stoke-on-Trent, Doncaster, Trowbridge and Sunderland, with each episode being written by a local playwright and performed by local actors.
The final episode will see the production come home to the National Theatre for a musical production at the Olivier stage – and will involve hundreds of people contributing from across the UK.
Speaking about the production, Emily Lim, the National Theatre’s director of Public Arts, said that it would be “logistically very challenging, but thrilling to have people from all over the country on the stage for the final part.”
Public Arts, the NT’s national community initiative, celebrates its fifth anniversary on the year of the production, 2023, coinciding with the 60th anniversary of the founding of the National Theatre itself.
The aim of the production was to create an “epic, episodic story which would allow us to go on a journey around the country,” Lim says.
“This is a story of endurance, resilience, of overcoming trial upon trial. And of hope, of finding a way of keeping going. In the context of the past two years, this is a pertinent thing to explore.
“How do we keep going in the face of a world turned upside down? When everything’s falling apart, how do we look up? Where’s the light? Where’s the hope? Where’s the forward motion? And we find it in each other.”
Each episode tells part of the story of the Odyssey, with all four parts opening with the same prologue and including the same song.
“There will also be something we’re calling ‘passing the baton’ – a community member from each place will travel to the next place to perform as part of that opening. And they will bring with them a gift to the company they’re going to from the company they’ve come from.”
However, Lim also stressed that they would be self-contained, saying: “We want to give as much autonomy as possible to the four amazing writers and artistic teams around the country. But we also need to make sure that the story holds as a consistent whole.”
The Odyssey will begin in April 2023, with the final episode being staged in London in August 2023.