Performing Epic

The APGRD’s 'Performing Epic' programme is a 3-year, Leverhulme-funded research project exploring the vital life of the classical epics in the performance arts.  The scope of the project is broad, encompassing the reception of epic in any performance medium (including theatre, opera, dance, film, and radio), in any language and country, and any era since antiquity.  The central aim of the project is to examine the reception of Greek and Roman epic within all performative genres.

Why now?

Verse narratives of quest, adventure and destiny – the Greek and Roman IliadOdysseyArgonauticaAeneidMetamorphoses alongside Gilgamesh, the Mahabharata, the Inuit Atanarjuat and the West African Sundiata – have been inspiring new theatrical, danced and sung productions in every continent of the world in recent years.  Numerous productions, such as the Franco-Indian collaborative version of The Odyssey by Footsbarn Travelling Theatre and the Kerala-based Abhinaya Theatre Group (1995), and the Ramayan Odyssey (2001) by the Tara Arts Company in London, have been discovering new resonances in the fusion of eastern and western epics in an intercultural performance arena.

Epic poetry was the staple of the early operatic repertoire (Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (1689), and Handel’s Acis and Galatea (1739) take their inspiration from the Aeneid and Metamorphoses respectively).  It continues to provide a rich storehouse of themes for contemporary creative artists working in divergent traditions, ranging from Tim Supple and Simon Reade’s RSC adaptation for the stage of Ted Hughes’ Tales from Ovid (1999) to Hans-Günther Heyme and Hanns-Dietrich Schmidt’s production Die Ilias des Homer, in Wolfgang Schadewaldt’s translation, for the Düsseldorf Schauspielhaus and the Schauspiel Essen (1989).  Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses appeared in embryonic form at Northwestern University (1996) before becoming a Broadway hit in 2002.  Performances of epic also include intriguing re-workings of ancient epic such as Paper Cinema’s recent live animation Odyssey (2012).  Epic poetry in performance has a long tradition, which seems no less potent and resonant for contemporary audiences than it was for those in the early modern period.

At any one time there are a number of classical epics in production in the UK, testifying not only to their enduring appeal, but also to their continued adaptability; many of these theatre companies are innovative and experimental, successfully recasting ancient epic in ways that ensure it resonates in the modern world.  This trend is not confined to one country but can be seen around the world, from the Chicago Court Theatre’s one-man Iliad in 2011 to Tom Wright’s Australian Odyssey (2005), Mario Vargas Llosa’s 2006 Peruvian stage-play Odiseo y Penélope, and the Ugandan singer Geoffrey Oryema’s 2002 album, The African Odysseus

The research project is cataloguing all such performances of epic and making the information available to researchers via the APGRD’s online database.  A forum for discussion of these issues will be provided through workshops and events scheduled to take place throughout the course of the project, and to which contributions from interested researchers will be very welcome.


22 October 2012: Tim Supple, ‘Theatre on an Epic Scale’ 
12 November 2012: Alice Oswald, ‘Performing Memorial
4 February 2013: Pantelis Michelakis, ‘Homer and Early Cinema’ 
3 June 2013: Michael Ewans, 'Ancient Epic in Early Opera: Gagliano's La Dafne and Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria'

19–20 September 2013: ‘Performing Epic to 1800’ Colloquium
Tania Demetriou (York), William Fitzgerald (KCL), Edith Hall (KCL), Robin Kirkpatrick (Cambridge), Andrew Laird (Warwick), Frederick Naerebout (Leiden), Tanya Pollard (Brooklyn College, CUNY), Deana Rankin (RHUL), Helen Slaney (Oxford), Henry Stead (KCL), David Wiles (RHUL), Wes Williams (Oxford), and Susanne Wofford (NYU). With performances by soprano Emma Kirkby with lutenist Jakob Lindberg.

21-22 September 2013: EDOX (Early Drama in Oxford) Performances of Christopher Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage and William Gager’s Dido (Performing Dido conference). 
28 November 2013: Stephen Langridge, 'Theseus Operas'
24 February 2014: Kate Tempest, 'In Conversation'
12 May 2014: Colin Burrow, 'Shakespeare and Epic'
19 May 2014: Sukanta Chaudhuri, 'A Midsummer Night's Dream': Metamorphosing the Classical

18-19 September 2014: 'Performing Epic into the Twenty-First Century' Colloquium
Speakers: Graeme Bird (Gordon College), Rachel Bryant-Davies (Leys School), Cécile Dudouyt (Paris 13), Laura Monrós Gaspar (València), Barbara Graziosi (Durham), Emily Greenwood (Yale), Lorna Hardwick (Open), Stephe Harrop (RCSSD), Pantelis Michelakis (Bristol), Emily Pillinger (KCL), Patrice Rankine (Hope College), Margaret Reynolds (QMUL), Tom Sapsford (USC) and New Movement Collective, Arabella Stanger (Roehampton), Brad Wilson (Oxford). With performances by Barbara Köhler (poet) & Georgina Paul (Oxford), Mark Usher (Vermont) & John Peel (composer).

24 March 2017: Odyssée 24 - a global mass reading
Translators/Speakers: Gregory Hutchinson; Molly Janz; Grace Linden; Kalina Allendorf; Spencer Klavan; Sam Norman; Arabella Currie; Marchella Ward; David Raeburn; Guy Brindley; Lucy Serocold; Melinda Letts; Jason Webber; Lucy Jackson; Nic Liney; Sean Kelly; Oliver Taplin.


Fiona Macintosh (Principal Investigator)
Justine McConnell (Leverhulme Postdoctoral Research Associate)
Edith Hall (Advisor)
Stephen Harrison (Advisor)
Oliver Taplin (Advisor)
Stephe Harrop (Professional Storyteller)
Rachel Bryant Davies (Researcher)
Claire Kenward (Researcher)
Henry Stead (Researcher)