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REVIEW:The Odyssey at Sunderland The Fire Station

The Odyssey: Episode 4 – The Island of the Sun 

Sunderland The Fire Station 

Saturday 29th April 2023

The National Theatre's Public Acts has toured across England. A different episode is held in each location using a cast that is mainly drawn from the local community. The penultimate episode took place in Wearside this weekend.

This was our first visit to the Fire Station. Whilst we regularly visit the Empire next door, it is usually dark and so it was nice to spend some time looking around in the day light and enjoy some food. A word of warning here though... we should have booked in advance as a few of the eateries were fully booked when we arrived. Afterwards we hung around and watched a band in the Peacock. In short, this area has undergone a big transformation in recent years and by the look of the work behind the Peacock - that work continues.

The Fire Station opened in 2017 as a multi purpose venue. It is as happy hosting music as well as theatre. We were told that the stage can be take right back if the band wants a mosh pit at their event. It is a smart place that feels very welcoming. The cool jazz playing as we awaiting the auditorium doors to open was a nice touch. Once inside we saw that the venue has been developed with good sight lines, comfy seats and good acoustics in mind. I also appreciated some decent leg room too. This is clearly a positive addition to the region's cultural scene.

On to the play...

The concept seems an interesting one. Take a big legend of a story. Split it into 5 episodes: each one written and directed locally, featuring a cast that draws from the local community. The problem comes in that most audiences will only see the one fifth that reaches their town and so the 70 minute performance has to pretty much stand up as a complete chapter in itself. Tasked with making this challenge word was North Shields based Lindsay Rodden and prolific local director Annie Rigby (whose Best In The World was the actual catalyst for the North East Theatre Guide back in the day - but that's another story...!) The end product largely worked. Rodden's script encapsulated the local pride and wicked sense of humour. Rigby's direction of a community cast created a performance that was well paced and enjoyable.

On to the story covered by this episode. As the programme summarises: Once back on course after the events on Aeolia, Odysseus and their depleted crew are in need of a rest. They hope to find The Island of the Sun where they can regroup, even though the island is filled with temptation. First, they must pass through a perilous storm and battle Scylla, a 6-headed sea monster. Odysseus has a choice to make : to continue on this path or to risk losing more of their crew.

Lindsay Rodden has framed this episode as a celebration and re-enactment  by the community. Led by two fine local professional actors - Christina Berriman Dawson (as Alwen) and Steven Stobbs (appearing as both Ishy and Zeus),  the large community cast do a cracking job to deliver the story. Casting has found some real stars who are able to carry the necessary emotion and enthusiasm. 

The Island of the Sun is an interesting partnership between the National Theatre and both the Sunderland Culture and Sunderland Empire. It helps bring the local community closer to culture and to a great local venue. The cast have created something they are proud of and will last in their memories. Well done.

Review and Photos: Stephen Oliver

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