A GREEK galley weighed anchor at Wearside’s most iconic landmark to publicise the arrival of The Odyssey in Sunderland.
Homer’s epic poem has been reimagined for today in a retelling performed by hundreds of community members and local artists across the country. This new landmark production is being told in episodes across five venues in England – including The Fire Station.
The production marks the fifth anniversary of Public Acts, the National Theatre’s nationwide programme to create extraordinary acts of theatre and community.
Ahead of performances at The Fire Station on Friday (April 28) and Saturday (April 29) the 10 metre long-ship, crafted from bamboo and rope, put in an appearance at Penshaw Monument on Thursday evening.
The galley is journeying alongside the productions of the multi-location production of The Odyssey and has been appearing in public places including markets, local beaches and parks to collect messages of remembrance from the local community.
Members of the community are invited to write their own messages to loved ones and tie colourful ribbons on to the ship, which will be displayed at the National Theatre in August for the culmination of The Odyssey tour.
The galley represents Odysseus’ epic voyage and the nationwide connection between the communities who are telling the story. The three previous episodes have been performed in Stoke, Doncaster and Trowbridge.
The fourth episode of The Odyssey, The Island of the Sun will be performed at The Fire Station (for Sunderland Culture in partnership with Sunderland Empire) tonight (Friday, April 28) and tomorrow night (April 29).
James Blakey, Associate Director of Public Acts, said: “It’s great to have the galley in such an iconic place which means so much to the people of Wearside. It’s a terrific venue for the galley and nothing like the places we’ve been to so far. The ribbons added are a way to remember loved ones, but when you see them blowing in the wind, they also give a sense of both movement and stillness.”
Helen Green, Head of Performance for Sunderland Culture, added: “It’s so exciting to see the galley
in Sunderland and particularly at Penshaw Monument. The galley travels down to Roker Beach tomorrow where a group of swimmers will take it into the sea. Then on Saturday night, after our performance of The Island of the Sun, the galley will transform into a stage for a short closing ceremony including music, poetry and the sacred act of “xenia” to pass the baton of the storytelling forward to the next episode at the National Theatre.”
An epic tale of stormy seas, mythical monsters and vengeful gods, The Island of the Sun follows Odysseus’ long, perilous journey home and is full of hope, determination and Mackem soul. This contemporary take on a key chapter of The Odyssey is written by north east playwright Lindsay Rodden, directed by Annie Rigby with music by The Young’uns’ Sean Cooney.
Lindsay was a former writer in residence at Live Theatre in Newcastle and is currently working on a musical – also for National Theatre – with The Futureheads’ Ross Millard. Although she was born in Scotland and grew up on Merseyside, her grandmother was from Sunderland and she has many fond memories of the city.
And so does composer and songwriter Sean Cooney, a member of the iconic British folk band, The Young’uns, winners of several BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Sean was brought up in Stockton, but he also had a grandmother from Sunderland.
Lindsay said: “As well as being known for its industrial heritage and its tradition in music and storytelling, Sunderland is a city by the sea, so is a perfect setting for The Island of the Sun. I had two challenges when thinking about how to tell the story of Odysseus – how to make an Ancient Greek poem relevant for today, and also how to write a piece for a cast of 30, which is an unusual, but very interesting challenge for a playwright.”
The final part of this epic journey will culminate at the National Theatre on August 26-28 featuring community performers from all previous performances as well as members recruited through Public Acts founding community partners, founding theatre partner Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, and Trybe House Theatre in London.
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.
For more information about The Island of the Sun, or the Odyssey project, go to www.thefirestation.org.uk. Tickets starts at £5.50 and under 14s must be accompanied by an adult