Tantalus

Definition

Theater

  • A 10-hour cycle of plays about the Trojan War written by John Barton(1928 - ), the distinguished British director often regardedas the √©minence grise of the Royal Shakespeare Company. After along and famously troubled gestation, it was finally staged in 2000 by SirPeter Hall and his son Edward in Denver, Colorado.

    The origins of Tantalus date back to the mid 1980s, when the RSCcommissioned Barton to create a series of linked plays retelling the storyof the Trojan War and its bloody aftermath. Barton had already shown himselfan exceptionally gifted adapter of epic materials with his versions ofShakespeare's history plays (as The Wars of the Roses, 1963)and works by Euripides and others (as The Greeks, 1980). From the start,Barton's long-time friend and collaborator Peter Hall, who had directedThe Wars of the Roses, was seen as the obvious choice to bring thisnew work to the stage. In the event, however, Barton seems to have beenoverwhelmed by the task and the project was repeatedly shelved. By the time he was happy with his text, the RSC had lost interest and an alternative backerhad to be found. This did not prove easy. The Greek government withdrew its promise of financial support in the 1990s and a plan to stage Tantalus as part of the 2000 Olympics celebrations likewise came to nothing. Salvation finally arrived from an unlikely source when Donald R. Seawell, an 88-year-old US businessman and theater enthusiast, agreed to provide the$8 million thought necessary to stage Tantalus, provided that itopened at the Denver Centre for the Performing Arts, which he had himselfendowed. Determined to seize this chance, Hall moved to Colorado with a team of actors, designers, choreographers, and literary and technical advisers,but would soon find that the production's troubles were far from over. Duringlong months of intensive rehearsals, crisis suceeded crisis: one actor, LarryLamb, was sacked; another, John Carlile, walked out when Hall announced suddenlythat the cast would perform in masks; and Mick Gordon, one of Hall's associatedirectors, failed to return from a short break citing "artisticdifferences". With deadlines looming, Hall took a series of radical decisions, the most drastic of which involved cutting or rewriting about a third of the text without consulting Barton. This high-handed treatment enragedBarton and brought to an end a friendship that had lasted 50 years: "I amviolently against what he has done," Barton fumed, "I think he has behaved dishonestly....

    Tantalus finally opened in October 2000, to mixed reviews. In itsreduced form it consisted of nine plays in three groups - The Outbreakof War, The War, and The Homecomings; the lead playersincluded Greg Hicks as Agamemnon and Priam, Annalee Jefferies as Clytemnestraand Andromache, and Ann Mitchell as Hecuba. There was a short tour of UK venues,including London's Barbican Theatre, the following January.

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