24th November 2000 at 00:00
Here comes your chance to spend 10 hours watching a soap opera about one of the most dysfunctional families ever. Tantalus, which in nine plays tells the story of the Trojan War, has been 20 years in the making - twice as long as the war itself. John Barton, the Royal Shakespeare Company director and scholar, has written a 15-hour epic, edited by Peter Hall, which can be seen (cushion advised) in one day. Those with less stamina can opt for three separate chunks of the story that is fundamental to western civilization. Helen and Achilles, Agamemnon, Cassandra and the Trojan Horse are among its familiar cast.

Sir Peter, who shares directing credits with his son Edward, has developed a particular style for Greek drama, giving his actors masks, but encouraging individual expression. Each mask has a large mouth aperture so the actors can be heard in amphitheatres and conven-tional venues, and each has a tiny microphone inserted in the nose to give what Sir Peter calls "greater bass frequency".

He is at pains to counter the idea that this is 10 hours of doom-laden Greek tragedy, maintaining that Tantalus is often funny and "a terrific yarn". The Greek myths are, he says, "at the centre of our political and psychological thinking, our ideas about family and power, men and women, war and peace". Tantalus, of course, was the poor chap who sat beneath a great rock never knowing when or if it would fall and crush him, while water and fruit forever moved teasingly (or tantalisingly) out of his reach. A metaphor for humans at the mercy of the gods.

The production, funded by the Centre for the Performing Arts in Denver, where it has already enjoyed enormous success, is supported by the biggest Arts Council touring grant ever (almost pound;500,000), and presented in association with the RSC. It will visit Salford Quays, Nottingham, Milton Keynes, Newcastle, Norwich and the Barbican in London. Information: 01789 403440.

When talking about Tantalus in London last week, Sir Peter mentioned that a teacher from Columbine High had enquired about tickets but, upon discovering that there was nudity in one play, said the students would not be allowed to attend. Columbine was in the news when two teenagers murdered 12 fellow-students and a teacher two years ago. It is ironic that an exploration of human cruelty, greed, belligerence and lust, and the terrible price that these can exact, should have been denied to young people living in a culture still in love with the gun.

Sometimes education and the theatre find it difficult, even with the best of intentions, to see eye to eye. Sherry Zand and her A-level theatre studies group from Caterham school, Surrey, were quietly watching the RSC's production of The Tempest in the front row of the Pit Theatre at the Barbican. Suddenly, Prospero (Philip Voss) addressed them directly, admonishing them for takng notes. Mr Voss says he felt they were not experiencing the play, being too concerned with writing it up; Ms Zand says her students will not now be able to review the production for their coursework. Just a matter of finding the right balance, no doubt. Perhaps theatres and schools should collaborate more closely on exactly what each expects of the other. It's clear that no ill will was intended on either side in this case. The Tempest is touring widely: 01789 403440.

An unusual theatrical project can be seen (and seen is the operative word) at Oval House in London between November 29 and December 16. Harold Pinter's Mountain Language and Landscape will be performed in British Sign Language - with an integrated voice-over of the original text - by eight deaf and hearing actors from the In Tandem TC. Mountain Language explores the use of language as a weapon by a brutal regime; Landscape's gentler theme concerns memories of a failing relationship. This is obviously a rare opportunity for users of BSL, but it could also provide unexpected insights for those of us accustomed to hearing a play. These pieces are cleverly chosen for this purpose. Tickets: 020 7582 7680.

More than 400 children were involved in King of all the Waterways, a cantata specially written to celebrate the construction of the Bridgewater canal. Richard Hall, community arts tutor at Bridgewater high school, an arts college in Warrington, Lancashire, co-ordinated this mammoth event with nine other schools (eight primary and another secondary) as well as musicians from local FE colleges, culminating in two performances at the Parr Hall in Warrington last week. Two musicians, Sue and Mike Healey of True Arts, worked with children from the schools to produce the music, and the book and lyrics were written by Ian McCormack. A watery subject seems all too suitable this autumn, but working together for the best part of a year has no doubt fired all the contributors to collaborate further.

History of a more sinister kind lurks behind the striking images of Rendering Visible: Contemporary Art from the Republic of Benin. Thousands of Africans were forcibly deported to the Caribbean from this part of the "Slave Coast", taking their customs, including vodou, with them. Traditional symbols and designs are incorporated into their work by contemporary artists. Among these is Cyprien Tokoudagba, whose art records decorations from vodou temples and shrines in Benin. Part of the exhibition, which is at the October Gallery in London WC1 until January 20, recently travelled to Churchill College, Cambridge, to accompany a bilingual colloquium on African and Caribbean literature in English and French. The Power of the WordLa Puissance du Verbe was attended by, among others, Wole Soyinka and Wilson Harris. Gallery information, including education events: 020 7242 7367.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today