odysseus unwound education

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Prince's Trust TEAM Programme - Basingstoke
6 November 2006

CHROMA team: Stuart King, Céline Saout, Lucy Shaw, Marcus Barcham-Stevens and Claire Shovelton.

Notes from the workshop leader, Stuart King:

Basingstoke “Team” Workshop – Forge @ The Anvil

Working in stages:

  • Mime
  • Acting
  • Opera (add impact with music)

Team-work: (pairs)

Getting to know you!

Started off by getting into pairs and spend 3/4 minutes finding out as much information about each other as possible – brothers/sisters, favourite band, song of the moment, favourite food, how old? Place where born etc….

Each pair then introduced each other giving as much detail as they could remember (this is a great way to get to know each other without actually having to talk about oneself in front of other people)

Team-work: (fours):

Paired charades – working in teams of four (took turns to work with everyone)

working in pairs play charades – both took a role in charade (no speaking or sound-effects)

a cat stalking an unsuspecting bird/mouse (cat – bird/mouse)

a lighthouse in a rough sea (lighthouse & boat)

a seed sprouting its first leaf (seed & watering can)

caterpillar turning into a butterfly (caterpillar – chrysalis – butterfly)

switching on a lightbulb (switch – bulb)

being woken by an alarm clock (sleeper – clock)

putting decorations on a Christmas tree (tree – decorator)

blowing up an inflatable mattress/dinghy from empty (inflatable – inflator)

a ride on the scariest rollercoaster in the world! (2 passengers)

waiting for, hooking and struggling to land a huge fish (fish – angler)

Next stage:

“how could the scene be made more believable/clearer?”

Suggestions were taken from everyone else – then the scene was done again, bearing these suggestions in mind.

Team-work: (sixs):

Re-telling the Odysseus Unwound story:

Odysseus’ personal destruction:

Odysseus is legendary king and a cunning warrior. He is almost over-confident and has an eye for the ladies. With the warmongering goddess Athene whispering encouragement as a voice in his head, he defeats the Trojans. War turns Odysseus and his men into barbarians, greedy for the spoils of war and to wield their new-found power. In a sick display of post-battlefield bravado Odysseus tries to woo the widowed, childless Queen of Troy, Hecuba. She, in turn, appears to be almost seduced by Odysseus’ honied words, but the reality of her now shattered life soon dawns on her. Hecuba holds a mirror up to Odysseus’ degrading behaviour (adulterer, war-criminal, barbarian) and she curses Odysseus warning she will be avenged. Her boiling hatred for Odysseus turns her into a howling, baying dog. Odysseus and his men leave Troy still triumphant, feeling invincible. Poseidon, the sea-god, has always despised Odysseus and vows to humble him by plaguing his homeward journey and making his life a misery. For the next 20 years Odysseus and his men are hit by one disaster after another – many lives are lost and the scenes of jeering, gloating victory celebrations are soon a hollow memory.

By the time he makes it home 20 years later he is possessionless and reduced to rags. He is so demoralised and world-weary that he does not even recognise his own country when he lands there. He eventually arrives at the palace, only to discover his wife in bed with several men (the Suitors that have been plaguing Penelope for years since news of the fall of Troy, eating her out of house and home). In spite of his exhaustion he is once again roused to violence by Athene’s voice in his head. He confronts his wife. She, in turn, confronts him with his own misdemeanours (Odysseus is a hypocrite having attempted to woo Hecuba and being bewitched by the witch-goddess Circe amongst others.), which she has heard about. Odysseus slays the sleeping suitors, but holds off killing his wife, in spite of this ‘default setting’ for violence. He is a broken man (hearing voices in his head, always resorting to violence). He cannot go on and breaks down. Penelope always believed he would come home but her resolve was weakened with the passing years, so she gave in to the hounding suitors just before Odysseus arrives home. Penelope is forgiving and strong and she shows Odysseus how to begin rebuilding their life together, how to undo the wrongs and the hurts, to learn to forgive past wrongs and find a way to have a future ‘together’.

Contemporary re-telling of the Odysseus story:

Odysseus & his men: (cocky, powerful, violent, fear-inducing, war-criminal, adulterer)

            (suggest: a street gang, young soldiers in Iraq)

Hecuba: (proud, scared, desperate, angry, grieving, vengeful)

            (suggest: gangster’s moll, Iraqi wife)

Athene: (the violent voice in Odysseus’ head)

Penelope: (comfortable, in limbo, quick-thinker under pressure, patient, loyal)

            (suggest: well-heeled stay-at-home wife with ‘on-business’ husband, gang leader’s ‘trust-fund’girlfriend, senior soldier’s upper class wife)

Circe: (extremely beautiful, confident, lonely, jealous, two-faced)

            (suggest: opposing gangleader’s girl, society bimbo)

Suitors: (confident, hungry, slimy, lecherous, determined)

            (suggest: public-school aristocratic yahoos, gold-digging penpushers)

Write down ideas for how each scene can be retold in a contemporary setting – something relevant/resonating with young people:

Street gangs

Young soldiers in a foreign land (Iraq)



The young people involved in this workshop were participants in a 12 week course run by the Princes Trust called TEAM. The aim of the course is to encourage young people to develop greater self-confidence through intensive teamwork and learn new skills that will better equip them to cope with life after formal education.

After all the warm-ups and introductions, the participants were divided into two working groups. Each group was allocated a scene from the opera, which they read aloud, each taking a different character. The participants displayed a thorough understanding of the their section of the Odyssey story and began concentrating on their own contemporary interpretation of the story. The themes and characters were discussed at length and placed in context. Each group then devised their own unique interpretation of their part of the story.

One group chose to represent Odysseus and his men taunting Hecuba after the destruction of Troy as two rival street gangs: 4Unit and 4Emos. 4Unit is headed by P-Diddy; 4Emos by 50pence (50p). 4Emos gang deliberately enters a nightclub on the 4Unit’s territory and there is a stand-off. A fight is narrowly avoided by the intervention of the nightclub’s bouncer. P-Diddy and his posse are ejected from the club, leaving behind P-Diddy’s girlfriend Jadey Kiss. She is in a vulnerable position. 50p has always had the hots for Jadey Kiss and seeing his opportunity he attempts to woo Jadey Kiss. He offers her his precious necklace, which is only worn by the leader of 4Emos. 50p’s gesture of love, meant to show he would provide Jadey Kiss with anything she desires, backfires. Unbeknown to 50p, Jadey Kiss is actually the leader of 4Unit. P-Diddy is just a smokescreen for the real powerhouse of the gang Jadey Kiss. In presenting her with the leadership necklace 50p has just unwittingly handed her power over 4Emos. Jadey Kiss is quick to put 50p in his place and demands the respect owing to such a powerful gang leader.

The second group re-interpreted the scene where Odysseus and Penelope are reunited after twenty years. Odysseus is a soldier returning from the war in Iraq. He discovers his girlfriend being attended to by three men. One is plying her with champagne and sweet things, another is giving her a sensual massage, the third whispers sweet nothings in her ear, trying to entice her out to a party. The soldier sees red and beats up the suitors. He rounds on his girlfriend and demands an explanation. She in turn reveals the diary she has been keeping, which details all his lies, cheating and indiscretions. She throws it in his face. The soldier quickly realises he is in the wrong and, falling at his girlfriend’s feet, begs her forgiveness. She thinks about it and ultimately relents – together they can find a way to mend their damaged relationship.

The two groups then performed their interpretations to each other, with the accompaniment of music. This was in some ways the most nerve-racking part of the day, performing to their peers, but they all aquitted themselves very well.

The group came to see the performance of Odysseus Unwound the following evening.

Sections of libretto referenced in workshop:



Troy. ODYSSEUS and his MEN victorious. HECUBA captured, and taunted.

ODYSSEUS                   Hecuba. Hecuba. Hecuba.

                                    Queen of wasted Troy,

                                    reigning over blood washed lands

ODYSSEUS’S MEN            Odysseus, our hero.

                                    Our hero. We’re heroes.

                                    This is a life. This is a kill.

                                    A ruby necklace for my love.

                                    A golden cup for my boy.

                                    A skinny silver knife.

                                    Drink from the ravages of war.

ODYSSEUS                   Drink to Athene, goddess of war.

MEN                             Drink to Athene, goddess of war.

                                    This is a life. This is a kill.

                                    We are heroes.

                                    And this was Troy.

ODYSSEUS/MEN          Hecuba. Hecuba. Hecuba.

                                    Queen of nothing.

                                    A weeping spoil of war.

ODYSSEUS                   Make love to me, my sweet queen

                                    I can heal despair

                                    See how tender my kisses are,

                                    see this loving hold,

                                    see my hands entwined with yours

                                    to pull our bodies down.

                                    My arms so strong around you

                                    can mend your broken will.

                                    My arms in shades of aching lust

                                    glitter from their win.  

MEN:                            Odysseus, our hero!        


HECUBA                       Arms, kisses,hands,

Winning, winning hands,

glitter with their sin.

Hands that hold me, hands that touch.

hands of promise, sweet longing hands,

hands that must have loved, held,

touched the world.

ODYSSEUS                   Let us go, gentle Queen.

HECUBA                       My blood.


ODYSSEUS                   Hecuba! (They kiss)

HECUBA            These hands that promised

to hold back the killing, to save Troy.

Damaged, my city, damaged by these promising hands.

MEN (taunting)               Queen of nothing, a weeping spoil of war.

ODYSSEUS                   Hecuba.

HECUBA                       My blood.

                                    There is a law, there is Law, Law.

                                    If men take and steal and maim,

                                    if men rob and rape and kill,                                         

if men lay waste the sacred places

rob the temple, sack and loot,

if men pile up the dead,                                    

if right and wrong are dust in heaven’s vault            

then Reason, Justice, lie with the dead,

                                    and the gods are gone.

ODYSSEUS                   Take these hands, Queen of Troy.

MEN (taunting)               Queen of nothing.

HECUBA                       There is the ruin,

                                    the flies settle on this open plain.

Can you smell the dead,

those dead things like my children, my king, my husband

Priam, Priam, Priam,

by these promising hands.

Reason is buried with them in Tartarus,

ODYSSEUS             Come Hecuba, far, far from this place,

ODYSSEUS attempts one more time to seduce her.


HECUBA                       And I, Odysseus, I only have left this growing arc of hate.

                                    Pity me, rotted by blinding hate.

                                    Can you see the dogs, Odysseus, the black dogs lining the shore?

They come for me and

They’ll come for you, Odysseus,

They’ll come for you.

Leave me to my howling friends,

leave me to their snapping and snarling.

I curse you, curse you, curse you

with what you made me be,

your black dog of fury, your fate.

Let all of death hold you in her yapping jaws.

Curse you Odysseus. Curse you.

End your days fast in my yapping haunt.

Curse you!!

HECUBA turns into a growling, snapping, barking black dog and descends into Tartarus.


Act 3, Scene 3

The palace. PENELOPE is awake, her SUITORS lie about her sleeping.

PENELOPE                   Sleep my lovers, sleep.

                                    Now I am.. drunk.

                                    Filled with your longing,

                                    Rapt with your lust.

                                    Sleep now my lovers,

                                    Sleep now I’m.. drunk.

(ODYSSEUS enters. He is shocked)


ODYSSEUS                   Long have I waited. Long have I wished…

PENELOPE                   Long have I waited. Long have I wished…

ODYSSEUS                   These men.

PENELOPE                   These men.

(SUITOR sing in their sleep)

SUITOR 1                     Blistered by your beauty..

SUITOR 2                     Ravished by your song..

SUITOR 3                     All night we taste and fill you..             

SUITOR 1                     Rapt to your core..

ODYSSEUS                   Long have I waited..

PENELOPE                   Long have I waited.

ODYSSEUS                   Athene stands next to me.

                                    Athene stands so near.

                                    Athene says your end is chosen.

                                    Athene fills me with more.

                                    She says, that killing, killing

                                    Is what bad blood must bear.

                                    Her violent hands corrode my will

                                    Her war burns in my might.

                                    This is a wound, and this is a kill. (kills SUITOR 1)

                                    This is a wound, and this is a kill.  (kills SUITOR 2)

                                    This is a slow death but this is a kill. (kills SUITOR 3)

And this is a wound, and this.. this.. this is a..

(He goes to kill PENELOPE, but cannot)

There is nothing, nothing as lust filled

as a city fallen, bodies for the asking.

                                    Hecuba, Hecuba was still beautiful.

                                    Her hate made her more so, her fear still more.

                                    Hecuba, Hecuba, Hecuba

                                    I wanted her, I wanted her.

                                    I wanted to hold her fast.

                                    She was mine, Priam dead.

                                    The Queen of Troy was in my grasp.

                                    I kissed my fate. Her hate.

                                    She weaves in the dark house of the dead,

                                    Spitting her black dog curses

                                    Spitting her black dog dread.

                                    Where is my life, where is the room

                                    With Hecuba barking in my head?

(PENELOPE grabs hold of part of her weaving/knitting, holding up to protect her from ODYSSEUS.)

PENELOPE                   I wove, I spun, I wove, I spun.

                                    These are your battles.

                                    These are your loves.

                                    I wove, I spun.

                                    This is Troy, Ilios,

                                    This is that wrong.

                                    I wove, I wove,

                                    I caught you here,

                                    I brought you home.

                                    I saw you naked with your loves.

                                    I saw your war filled lust.

                                    I wove and wove to bring you back.

                                    I unpicked each act of hate.

                                    I unwove revenge.

                                    So kill me then, kill me then,

                                    Kill me then, too.

ODYSSEUS                   Athene stands next to me

Athene fills my head with more.

PENELOPE                   No, you are alone. You are alone.

                                    No one to blame for your violence and crime

                                    No one to blame if you steal my life

                                    No one to blame but your sharp edged will

                                    No one to call on, no one but you.

ODYSSEUS                   Athene, Hecuba.

PENELOPE                   No one to watch us but our own despair.

(ODYSSEUS collapses, and does not kill PENELOPE.)

Home you are home now.

Come to me my husband.

Come to me my dear.