TANTALUS 20th anniversary


Twenty years ago, the Denver Center Theatre Company made history. In a co-production with the Royal Shakespeare Company, TANTALUS— the largest play ever to have been attempted… maybe to this day—received its world premiere. 2,500 years in the making. 17 years to write. Six months of rehearsal. Ten plays to recount the story of the Trojan War. A lifetime in theatrical history.

The internationally-acclaimed world premiere of TANTALUS, a spectacular 10-part play about the follies of war and mankind, premiered September 15 – December 2, 2000, placing Denver squarely at the heart of the world stage.

Funded by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and presented by the DCPA Theatre Company in association with the Royal Shakespeare Company, TANTALUS was unlike any undertaking in the history of the theatre.

Epic in scope, TANTALUS set a new, higher standard. It brought together the most creative and renowned artists working in the theatre in 2000: playwright John Barton, who spent 17 years writing the ambitious script; the legendary Sir Peter Hall, founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, who directed a troupe of superlative actors from both sides of the Atlantic (rehearsals took an unprecedented six months); Greek designer Dionysis Fotopoulos, known for his work in 350 theatrical productions and more than 40 films, who created striking set and costume designs; Sumio Yoshii, Japan’s leading master of lighting, who set extraordinary nuances of mood and emotion; Irish composer Mick Sands and American choreographer Donald McKayle, recently named an “irreplaceable dance treasure” by the Library of Congress and the Dance Heritage Coalition, whose music and motion set the tone and frequently the action of the play.

The stunning production was crafted entirely in the facilities of the Tony Award-winning DCPA Theatre Company, long known for its world-class productions.

Robert Petkoff as Achilles in the 2000 Denver Center Theatre Company production of Tantalus. Photo by p. switzer

Robert Petkoff as Achilles in the 2000 Denver Center Theatre Company production of Tantalus. Photo by p. switzer

More than 10,000 people from no fewer than 44 states and 12 foreign countries (many of whom were first-time visitors to Denver) cheered TANTALUS with standing ovations. Audiences came from the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, France, Australia, Belgium, Greece, Canada, Italy, New Zealand, Colombia and Hungary.

The startling theatricality and rich language of the production drew extraordinary praise from reviewers, and invited comparisons to such classics as Nicholas Nickleby and Mahabharata. The four-month Denver engagement drew more than 160 critics from seven countries.

National Public Radio devoted two stories to the event reaching more than 16,000,000 listeners. Journalists came from around the globe representing more than 120 of the world’s leading publications such as The London Times, The Independent, The Financial Times, The Guardian, The London Observer, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Christian Science Monitor, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, Reuters, Toronto’s National Post, The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, The Denver Post and The Denver Rocky Mountain News.


John Lahr of The New Yorker praised the show as “theatrical magic, magisterial and cunning,” and declared, “this lively production traps something that our sedate theatre has lost: the awesome, terrible and thrilling monster of life’s vitality.” TANTALUS, he concluded, is nothing less than “marvelous human drama…terrific stuff and well told.”

The New York Times’ Bruce Weber, noted that it is “the most ambitious show ever mounted at an American regional theatre.” He found TANTALUS “frequently thrilling…a gourmand’s banquet of virtuosic writing and stagecraft.” Weber praised the performances as “mesmerizing” and the script as “fascinating.”

In Variety, Charles Isherwood dubbed TANTALUS “an exceptional theatrical event…authentic theatrical majesty” and lauded its “great performances.”

Others hailed TANTALUS as “a landmark theatrical event,” “jubilant,” “a corker of a tale,” “…an intriguing, thought-provoking and exhilarating spectacle.” Time magazine named TANTALUS to its list of the ten best theatre productions of 2000.

Denver was the only US city to host the production of TANTALUS prior to its tour of England and an extended run at the Barbican Centre in London.

TANTALUS Production Photo Gallery

TANTALUS Rehearsals Photo Gallery


For more information on TANTALUS, playwright John Barton, directors Peter and Edward Hall, the designers and, of course, the Greek mythology that gave rise to these incredible stories, please enjoy a selection of reading material: