The Barbican Centre will mount a festival of events around the London premiere of Sir Peter Hall and John Barton's Tantalus next month. The epic staging of the Greek tragedy, which runs from 2 to 19 May at the Barbican Theatre, will form the centrepiece of a wide-ranging schedule of theatre, cinema, talks and family events.

Lasting eight and a half hours (twelve hours with meal breaks) and featuring an international cast of 29 actors, the Tantalus cycle is one of the most ambitious theatrical projects ever undertaken. It first opened in October 2000 at the Denver Center Theatre Company, which originated the production in association with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Written by RSC director and adviser Barton and adapted by Hall, Tantalus is a modern theatrical epic which tells, for the first time, the whole story of the Trojan War. Though the roots of the story lie in a war nearly 3,000 years ago, Barton's stage chronicle is a sequence of entirely new plays, which recreates in contemporary terms the mythical sweep of the tales of war, family and destiny.

At the Barbican, six complete cycles of Tantalus will be presented. Half of these are scheduled to take place over three consecutive nights while the other half will be performed as marathon "all-dayers".

Other highlights of the Barbican's Tantalus festival include: Odyssey, a one-man show interweaving the story of Odysseus with one family's migration to Australia from Greece, playing at The Pit; a season of six films by acclaimed Greek directors, Michael Cacoyannis and Theo Angelopoulos; talks about the making of Tantalus and "Troy Now"; and a family weekend of storytelling and Greek myths.

Tantalus was commissioned by the RSC, under the leadership of Trevor Nunn. Following the success of Barton's The Greeks, the company nurtured the cycle's development over the 15 years Barton spent writing it. Barton has drawn on some of history's most famous stories in the work while also incorporating hitherto unknown material from fragmentary sources. Tantalus is a character in Greek myths who was punished by the Gods for stealing their secrets. He was punished by having to spend the rest of eternity hungry and thirsty, with food and drink in sight but always - tantalisingly - just out of reach.

The international cast includes RSC regulars Greg Hicks, Ann Mitchell and David Ryall. It is directed by Peter Hall and his son Edward Hall, and designed by Greece's foremost theatre and film designer, Dionysis Fotopoulos, with lighting by Ninagawa's collaborator Sumio Yoshii, music by Irish composer Mick Sands and choreography by Broadway veteran Donald McKayle.

- by Terri Paddock