REHEARSALS are underway for Sunderland’s contribution to an epic, multi-location production of legendary Greek poem The Odyssey. 

Reimagined for today in a retelling with hundreds of community members and local artists across the country, this new landmark production will be told in episodes across five venues in England. The multi-venue production marks the fifth anniversary of Public Acts, the National Theatre’s nationwide programme to create extraordinary acts of theatre and community. 

Sunderland Culture and Sunderland Empire are working in partnership with the National Theatre to deliver the fourth of five episodes of The Odyssey being performed throughout April this year. The Sunderland episode, The Island of the Sun, will be performed at The Fire Station on Friday, April 28 and Saturday, April 29 and will feature dozens of community performers who have started rehearsing a script by local playwright Lindsay Rodden. 

Annie Rigby, Artistic Director at Newcastle-based Unfolding Theatre, will direct the episode which is being produced by Sunderland Culture’s Helen Green and Sunderland Empire’s Anthony Hope. 

Helen said: “We’re delighted that rehearsals are under way and that so many local people are involved. Our first meeting was a walk along the beach during which we put Odysseus’ tale into context. We’ve since had two workshops and rehearsals are now properly underway. 

“Through this landmark project and ground-breaking partnership with National Theatre, each venue will reimagine The Odyssey, with local community performers telling Odysseus’s story of resilience, loss, healing and hope.” 

Annie added: “We have 34 volunteer performers, of all ages and from a diverse range of backgrounds, which is great. Through Lindsay’s writing and the local performers, our episode is going to have an authentic Sunderland voice. There will be lots of singing as well as very physical storytelling in our episode. 

“Lindsay has been heavily involved and is incorporating feedback as we go along. It’s a great story well told, which the audience will love. It’ll be a standalone performance so audiences won’t need to know what comes before or after, and they won’t need to do any homework about Odysseus.” 

Volunteer Val Brown, from Grangetown, was excited at being involved: “I love singing and dancing and it’s great to feel part of the team,” she said. 

The retired town planner and amateur photographer added that she was hoping for a small speaking part in the production. 

University of Sunderland student Folsada Fasoyiro and her daughter Sara are also part of the production. Folsada explained: “I love poetry and performing and my daughter loves dancing and we’re looking forward to the whole process.” 

Folsada enjoyed performing in her native Nigeria, but The Odyssey is her first opportunity to perform in the UK. 

Sunderland actor Steven Udale, from Southwick, has a special reason for his involvement in The Odyssey: “My dad passed away recently and one of the last things he said to me was ‘find your lighthouse.’ The lighthouse is a symbol for the city and has a role in The Island of the Sun, so it feels right for me to be part of this.” 

The local creative team includes singer songwriter Sean Cooney (a member of the folk group The Young ‘Uns); choreographer Patrick Ziza (who brought his Dandyism production to last year’s Summer Streets Festival) and choir leader Catherine Stephens (of The Cornshed Sisters). 

The creative team for the national project includes 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 across the country, and music composer Jim Fortune who will compose music for the final episode and write a finale song that will feature across all five episodes.  

Other episodes will be created and performed by artists and communities in four partner organisations across the country: Restoke in Stoke-on-Trent, Cast in Doncaster, and Trowbridge Town Hall in Trowbridge. 

The culmination of the Odyssey journey, the final fifth episode, will be staged as an epic full-scale musical production at the National Theatre on August 27-29. This final production will feature community performers from all four partners, as well as members recruited through Public Acts founding community partners in London, founding theatre partner Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Trybe House Theatre in London. 

This 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 performances 

Dates Episode Venue 
30 March – 2 April 2023 Episode 1 – The Lotus Eaters Restoke 
15-16 April 2023 Episode 2 – The Cyclops Cast in Doncaster  
22-23 April 2023  Episode 3 – The Four Winds Trowbridge Town Hall  
28-29 April 2023 Episode 4 – The Island of the Sun The Fire Station, Sunderland 
26 – 28 August 2023 Episode 5 – The Underworld  Olivier theatre, National Theatre  

For more information about The Island of the Sun, or the Odyssey project, go to Tickets starts at £5.50 and under 14s must be accompanied by an adult. 

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