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.
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.
Once Barton's work was finally complete, it seemed at first that, owing to its scale, the cycle would have little chance of being staged - until Donald Seawell, founder and chairman of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, stepped in. Seawell, a governor of the RSC and long-time associate of both Hall and Barton, offered to produce Tantalus using the resources of the DCTC.
The production has undergone an unprecedented six months of rehearsal time. Its premiere will be staged in a marathon single sitting, but for most subsequent performances, will be staged in three parts - The Outbreak of War, The War and The Homecomings - which can be seen over two or three days. 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.
Prior to its spring 2001 season at the Barbican, Tantalus will visit Manchester, Nottingham, Milton Keynes, Newcastle and Norwich.