The Odyssey

Trowbridge Town Hall is partnering with National Theatre to create epic nationwide production of The Odyssey in collaboration with local writer, Florence Espeut-Nickless, and featuring community residents.

Today Trowbridge Town Hall announces a new collaboration with the National Theatre to create a multi-location nationwide production of The Odyssey produced in partnership with local communities, theatres and artists nationwide. Taking place in 2023 the production will form part of the National Theatre’s 60th anniversary programme.

In celebration of the fifth anniversary of Public Acts, the NT’s nationwide programme to create extraordinary acts of theatre and community, The Odyssey will be an epic, nationwide multivenue production made in collaboration with hundreds of community members and professional artists from across the country. Through this landmark project, the adventures of Odysseus will be reimagined with our community companies as a universal story of resilience, loss, healing and hope for today.

The Odyssey will be told in four episodes taking place across the country in Spring 2023, culminating with a fifth and final episode on the Olivier stage at the National Theatre in August 2023. Trowbridge Town Hall will be producing the third episode of The Odyssey in partnership with the NT, which will be written by playwright Florence Espeut-Nickless and performed by members of the local community.

Trowbridge Town Hall was built at the height of the town’s fame as one of the most important woollen weaving centres in England. In the mid-1960’s until the early 1970’s its grand ballroom became a major music venue, hosting such artists as The Who, America, and The Small Faces. From 1975, the building was converted into a Magistrates Court which remained in place until the early 2000’s, after which the Town Hall closed its doors. Then, about ten years ago, a local community group persuaded Wiltshire Council to let it use the building for a variety of community activities and performances. Despite the challenges, this community activity thrived and in November 2021, Trowbridge Town Hall Trust was granted £8.1million from the Future High Streets Fund to refurbish the building and make it a regional hub for culture, community, and commerce. It is appropriate that just as Trowbridge Town Hall embarks on its own epic journey, it will also be helping to tell the story of, perhaps, the most famous journey of all.

Florence Espeut-Nickless is a writer and actor who went to college in Trowbridge. She writes for both stage and screen about, and with, working class communities in the South West in the hope of making the arts more accessible to everyone, regardless of background and geographical location.

Her debut play, Destiny, in which she also stars, has already garnered great critical acclaim and will begin a second tour later this year. During Christmas of 2021, she starred in her own play, Miracle on 34, Seymour Street staged at Trowbridge Town Hall.  

Alan Wright, Director of Trowbridge Town Hall, said, “It is such an honour to be working with the National Theatre and our collaborative partners in Sunderland, Doncaster and Stoke-On-Trent. However, even more thrilling is the opportunity of working with so many community groups in Trowbridge over the next twelve months, giving so many of our residents the opportunity to inform our work. To think there are between fifteen and twenty Trowbridge residents going about their daily routine at the moment with no idea that they might end up performing on the Olivier stage at the NT in August 2023. It is a dream for us all, and a very proud moment for the town.”

Emily Lim, Director of Public Acts said, “We are so excited to be bringing The Odyssey to life with such an inspiring group of theatre-makers. In light of everything that’s happened over the past two years it feels incredibly special, and right, to be coming together from all corners of the country to tell a story about how we heal and move forwards after a period of profound loss and change. We hope the project will create an unforgettable gesture of unity, creativity and radical joy which everyone can feel a part of.”

The lead creative team for the project is 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 local playwrights,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.

The first four episodes will be created and performed by local artists and communities in four partner organisations across the country in April 2023: also including Restoke in Stoke-on-Trent, Cast in Doncaster, and Sunderland Culture and Sunderland Empire in Sunderland.

The four artists writing each of these four episodes in co-creation with their communities are Gabriella Gay (Stoke), Tajinder Singh Hayer (Doncaster), Florence Espeut-Nickless (Trowbridge) and Lindsay Rodden (Sunderland).

The culmination of the journey, the fifth episode, will be staged as an epic full-scale musical production at the National Theatre on 27-29 August 2023. This final production will feature community performers from all four nationwide companies, as well as members recruited through founding Public Acts community partners in London, founding theatre partner Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Trybe House Theatre in London who are working with Public Acts for the first time this year. 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, Garfield Weston Foundation, The Mosawi Foundation and Wates Foundation.