EPIC / Keeping the drama shipshape

'I FEEL as if I've got a chihuahua lead and I'm running up this huge monster, this jabberwocky, and trying to pull it through a small door,' says Greg Doran, director of The Odyssey, which opens tonight at the Other Place, the RSC's smallest, roughest space.

The monster has been a year in the making, and though it marks Doran's directing debut for the RSC he's a familiar face to audiences. After acting and directing for his own company and at the Nottingham Playhouse, Doran washed up in Stratford for the 1987/88 season to play Octavius in Julius Caesar and hefty roles in the rest of the rep. The following year, when he was half-way through his apprenticeship as an assistant director, Adrian Noble called him in and asked him what, given carte blanche, he would like to direct. Homer's Odyssey, he replied. 'I've always wanted to. It's a wonderful, epic story, the components of which we all know about - the Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis are familiar journalistic headlines - and just last year out of my Christmas cracker fell the riddle 'Why did the Cyclops give up teaching? Because he only had one pupil' - but the context has gone. I wanted to reclaim those great characters and situations.' Anyway, Noble laughed and said what else, and just as Doran thought that was it, packed him off to find a writer for the job.

Having read Derek Walcott's earlier invocation of Homer, Menelaus, Doran instantly thought of him. Then he heard about Walcott's prize-winning epic, Omeros, in which the poet takes Homer to his native St Lucia, and his heart sank, certain that Walcott would refuse the commission on the grounds of cultural opportunism. 'I wanted Derek to do it because his poetry is pervaded with the sense of the sea. It has an almost tidal rhythm to it. I loved the fact, too, that he came from an exotic island. While I was thinking about the project I read Keats's poem, 'On First Looking into Chapman's Homer', where he says that Chapman 'spoke out loud and bold' and that is what you get from Walcott. There's an image in Homer when Odysseus is thrown against a rock, the wave pulls him back and he loses all the skin off his hand and he says, you know when you hunt for octopus and you plunge your hand into the cave to pull it out, the octopus has all this shingle on its suckers, well, that was what it was like for Odysseus. No one could write like that unless he'd fished for octopus. There's that same genuine voice in Derek's work. And there is a coincidence, too, between Derek's sense of exile and Odysseus' - after all, The Odyssey is the first great song of the return of the wanderer.'

Fortunately, the thought of being labelled the Homer-man of the Nineties didn't deter Walcott and he promptly set to work, writing sketches of key moments, such as the transposition of the Underworld to the Underground, and the portrait of the Cyclops as an obscenely fat and monstrous tyrant. A fortnight of intensive workshops with a few RSC actors quickly produced another 100 pages. And when Doran went over to St Lucia to continue work, Walcott handed him a fat script which began with the dedication 'For Greg' - proof, surely, of a relationship of mutual admiration? 'When I thanked him, he teased that he'd only done it so I'd do the play the way he wanted.'

Together they arrived at a flexible hexameter line and unintrusive rhyme scheme on which to hang this piece of collaborative story-telling. The tangy, invigorating use of language is vintage Walcott, but Doran's contribution to the play has been significant too. 'I've been a sort of editor. You understand the tangents of Omeros as soon as you experience the pace of life in the Caribbean - you can endlessly chatter and digress and that is precious and it's probably Greek too - but what I've done is to shape this sprawling epic into three hours' traffic upon the stage.'

Walcott has compared Doran's production to a ship. 'He said that we must hang on to the poetry, what he calls the 'chuckling consonants' and not let them slip between the planks. And he's right. It's a 12-beat line and if the actors stray off that, the heartbeat goes. Ensemble playing is essential - the play is pretty much single-line distribution, you rely on someone else for your cue. If one person lies back or loses faith, then you've had it.' A week before launch, however, the helmsman had confidence in both crew and vessel. 'A great poet has put on the mantle of story-teller and is telling the story in his own terms with references to his own culture without gimmicks or attempting to foist parallels. I passionately believe that if we'd done a sort of chitons and kothornoi production with masks, Homer would have hated it, but I believe we're recreating The Odyssey entirely in keeping with Homer's spirit.'

'The Odyssey' opens at Stratford tonight (0789 295623)

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police