Catullus in Song

Friday, February 17, 2023 - 10:00am
Stephen Sharkey
Jack Tarlton
Alex Silverman
JdP, St Hilda's College, Oxford

Oxford Classical Drama Society warmly invites participants to a one-day workshop, Catullus in Song, to be held at the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building, St Hilda’s College, on 17 February. The workshop is run by playwright Stephen Sharkey and actor Jack Tarlton, and will be hosted by composer Alex Silverman.

Gaius Valerius Catullus is one of the most distinctive voices to survive from the ancient world. In one hundred and sixteen poems we have inherited a treasure trove of work from a master craftsman, and also one of the most engaging and compelling self-portraits to emerge from antiquity. Ranging from the famous two-line masterpiece that begins ‘odi et amo’ (‘I love and I loathe’) to highly polished mini-epics in the style of the Greeks, Catullus displays technique and panache that would lead him to become one of the most revered and imitated of the Roman poets. Today he is perhaps best known for his ‘Lesbia’ poems, addressed to a woman with whom he is hopelessly in love. ‘Lesbia’ is a nickname – she is usually identified as Clodia Metelli, wife of an eminent politician. These poems (or songs, the Latin for both is ‘carmina’) are sometimes witty and tender, sometimes furious, but always passionate, straight from the heart.

In our workshop Catullus in Song, we will explore eight of his finest lyrics, celebrate his artistry and translate his pieces from the Latin, matching the translations with talented musicians working in a variety of styles, to produce eight new songs. Through the course of the day, we will engage with Catullus’s unique voice, reaching back across two thousand years to touch the mind of one of poetry’s greatest innovators. At the end of the day, we will get together and share our ‘carmina’ in a live performance. Lunch and drinks will be provided free of charge.

Participants: composers & translators

We have space for eight individuals or groups with experience of composing and performing. Each musical participant will be paired with two translators, choosing a poem by Catullus to explore. Taking a collaborative approach, they will create a new English translation to respond to musically. Any genre, including singer song-writing, hip-hop, rap, choral, rock and pop, metal, folk, performance poetry and remixing and DJing of sampled lyrics will be welcomed, allowing us to present a truly diverse and contemporary response to the original verse. The eight new ‘carmina’ will be performed at the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building that evening.

We also have space for sixteen translators with some knowledge of Latin to collaborate in pairs with the musicians. No performing or composing experience is required.

To get involved, please email with your name and a brief outline of your experience.

About the creative team

Jack Tarlton

Jack Tarlton is an actor, director and teacher who was born in Edinburgh and trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. As an actor his theatre work includes Daniel (A Play, A Pie and A Pint), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Sheffield Crucible - Nominated for Best Supporting Actor at Broadway World UK Awards), The Death of Ivan Ilyich (Attic Theatre Company), City of Glass (59 Productions, Lyric Hammersmith & HOME, Manchester), BRENDA (HighTide & The Yard), Hedda Gabler (Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh), Pitcairn (Out of Joint, Shakespeare’s Globe & Chichester Festival Theatre), CHORALE – The Animal (You), The Holy Ghostly and The War in Heaven (Presence Theatre & Actors Touring Company), From Morning to Midnight, Coram Boy and Once in a Lifetime (National Theatre). Television includes Traces, Outlander, 8 Days: To the Moon and Back, Doctors, The Golden Hour, Dead Ringers, Doctor Who, The Genius of Mozart, Swivel on the Tip, Hearts and Bones, Life Support, Wings of Angels and The Cater Street Hangman. Film includes The Imitation Game, Nora and The Unscarred. Directing credits include A Night at the Rare Books Auction (Being Human Festival), the British programme of the international online theatre festival Poor Connection, and staged readings of AGAINST (Backwell Festival Productions & JOE), The Deep (Presence Theatre at Offbeat Festival & the Embassy of Iceland), Emperor Fukushima (Presence Theatre & Empty Deck at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe), Now That’s What I Call Music and The Frugal Horn (Presence Theatre at Backwell Festival) and The Returnings (Presence Theatre at the Norwegian Embassy, Nordic Drama Now & Backwell Festival). Jack has run workshops on Shakespeare, Brecht and modern drama studies and adapting prose and translation for the stage at the University of London, University of Buenos Aires, Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Oxford University, East 15 Acting School and for The Old Vic, Stockroom and Strange Town. He was a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Modern Languages Research at the University of London.

Stephen Sharkey

Stephen Sharkey has translated and adapted a wide variety of classic and classical stories for the stage, including works by Euripides, Aristophanes, Wilde, Defoe, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Dickens and Goncharov. His most recent work includes an adaptation of WHITE TEETH, Zadie Smith’s modern classic novel, in a major production at the Kiln Theatre by artistic director Indhu Rubasingham, a version of Tolstoy’s THE DEATH OF IVAN ILYICH for one actor, and INKHEART, adapted with Walter Meierjohann from the children’s novel by Cornelia Funke for Home, Manchester. His new translation of Brecht’s THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI was commissioned and co-produced by Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse and Nottingham Playhouse and his adaptation of A CHRISTMAS CAROL was directed by Erica Whyman at Northern Stage, Newcastle, and is published by Josef Weinberger. Stephen has written three further Christmas shows for Northern Stage: HANSEL AND GRETEL, PETER PAN, and THE GLASS SLIPPER. Other translations include ION by Euripides for Gate Theatre, London; THE BIRDS by Aristophanes, reworked as a musical comedy for children called CLOUDCUCKOOLAND; and SEX AND THE THREE-DAY WEEK adapted from a Feydeau farce for Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse. Publications include THE MAY QUEEN (Methuen) originally produced by Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse and an adaptation of THE GREAT GATSBY (Methuen) originally produced by Blackeyed Theatre. Stephen has also written several plays for BBC Radio 4: the first of these, ALL OF YOU ON THE GOOD EARTH, won the Society of Authors’ Richard Imison prize for best radio debut. 

Alex Silverman

Alex Silverman has won acclaim and awards for his composition, arrangement, and direction of music. Though he is most often found in the theatre or in front of a choir, his output includes work for TV, Radio and Film. He is comfortable working in a broad range of styles- from Baroque Opera to contemporary Jazz, occasionally all at the same time. Alex’s approach to music-making is thoughtful and playful, and his distinctive voice has proved increasingly popular with performers, critics and audiences alike. 

A snapshot of the day...

Collage of 7 photographs showing snapshots from day long musical workshop in the JdP Building, Oxford