(Jessica Murray’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/8; Photo: Patsy Browne-Hope and Frank Hickman in rehearsals for The Lotus Eaters, the first episode of NT Public Acts’ new five-part Odyssey, at Restoke in Stoke-on-Trent. Photograph: Jenny Harper.)

In episodes developed with communities around England, the production aims to tell ‘a story of resilience and healing and hope’

In his opening monologue for The Lotus Eaters, the first episode of the National Theatre’s forthcoming multi-location production of The Odyssey, actor Tony Dudley enthuses about a statue of Perseus in Trentham Gardens on the fringes of Stoke-on-Trent. It’s one of many ways the production is rooted in the place it was created, in order to reimagine the Greek epic for audiences across England.

“We love doing impossible things, and we wanted to do something we’ve never attempted before,” said Emily Lim, director of Public Acts, the National Theatre’s community arts programme, which is celebrating its fifth anniversary with The Odyssey, presented in five episodes. “The idea of telling one story across the whole country, with lots of different communities living in lots of different places, but ultimately coming together through shared purpose and shared imagination, felt really exciting.”

Dudley, 37, a local amateur actor who has long held a passion for Greek mythology, is a narrator for the play, which sees the Lotus Eaters’ island replaced by a nightclub. “It’s remixing the Odyssey for modern culture,” said Dudley. “It’s about being brave and saying ‘Let’s make something of this, and put a spin on it for the modern age.’” He is part of arts organisation Restoke, one of a number of partner groups the National Theatre has collaborated with on the project

After the performances in Stoke-on-Trent, the story continues in Doncaster, Trowbridge and Sunderland, with each community taking on a different episode of the tale, before performers from all groups unite at the National Theatre in London for the final instalment.

“If you’d have told my 18-year-old self one day you’re going to be on the stage at the National, I wouldn’t have believed it,” said Stoke resident and former theatre technician Charis Jones, 50, who plays part of Odysseus’s crew. “It’s been a wonderful experience, and our episode feels very much ours, with all our stories. With a different cast it would be a completely different show.”

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