Entertainment

Canadian, U.K. theatres plan co-production of Atwood's Penelopiad

Ottawa's National Arts Centre and the Royal Shakespeare Company of Stratford-upon-Avon in Britain are collaborating to create a musical stage version of Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad.

Ottawa's National Arts Centre and the Royal Shakespeare Company of Stratford-upon-Avon in Britain are collaborating to create a musical stage version of Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad.

It is the first time the Royal Shakespeare Company has collaborated with a Canadian theatre company.

Atwood is adapting her book, The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus, for the stage in a format that the producers are calling a "cabaret."

"Because it takes place in the underworld, in the afterlife, it’s obviously not a piece of realism," Atwood said in an interview with CBC Radio.

The book retells Homer's Odysseyfrom Penelope's point of view.

In Homer's version, Odysseus returns from the Trojan War tokill his wife Penelope's suitors andher 12 disobedient maids. Atwood tells the story of what Penelope wasup to during the 20 years her husband was gone.

The Penelopiad is one of a seriesof ancient myths and classics retold by modern writersbeing published in a partnership of international publishers.

The stage version will star an all-female cast, including seven Canadian actors and six from the Royal Shakespeare Company.

It's rare in featuring so many roles for women, Atwood says, but the format can be adapted to be played by as few as six performers.

The Penelopiad will premiere in July 2007 at Stratford-upon-Avon's Swan Theatre, then open the 2007-2008 season in English theatre at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa next September.

The creative team, including the director, has yet to be named, but will comprise artists from both countries, Peter Hinton, NAC artistic director, said Monday in announcing the production.

"I love the idea that Canadian artists are going to one of the foremost recognized classical theatres in the world to tell an old classic mythic tale written by a Canada, reinterpreted by a Canadian," Hintontold CBC Radio.

Hinton, who in his first season as artistic director of the Ottawa theatre company created a completely Canadian program, sees this project as an extension of his artistic vision.

The Penelopiad will help raise the international profile of Canadian work, and provide unparalleled opportunities for Canadian theatre artists on the international stage, he said.

Atwood first approached Hinton about a stage adaptation of The Penelopiad in 2005, and the NAC bought the world rights to a premiere production in 2006.

"When the script came to me, you go 'OK, well she's a wonderful novelist. Is this going to work as a play?'" Hinton said.

"I took a peek and went, 'This is fantastic.' It was so exciting. She has such a range to her voice, from deep, considerate intelligence to very emotional, to laugh out loud funny."

Atwood had already been working on transforming the book, andjoined with director Phyllida Lloydto createa 30-minute reading of her adaptation in London in October 2005.

Deborah Shaw, associate director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, became intrigued by Atwood's work while putting together a season of plays around the theme of classical stories for spring 2007.

Discussions began with the NAC, which led to a wider collaboration around the production. The British theatre troupe has previously worked with companies from India, Africa, Poland, Russian and China.

The production opens July 27, 2007in the U.K. and Sept. 17 in Ottawa.

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