Beowulf - A Thousand Years of Baggage @ Assembly
Beowulf – A Thousand Years of Baggage is one of those shows that makes the Fringe: a riotous performance and a great example of how stunning experimental theatre can be.
In this song-play, a seven-piece band accompany three actors, two singing dancers and a fur-clad Beowulf who makes a grand entrance sporting sunglasses and dripping with masculinity.
A text as mysterious as Beowulf deserves a powerful interpretation. The 3182-line poem sees warrior Beowulf seek to defeat the psychotic Grendel, a troubled young monster akin to Psycho’s mother-loving Norman Bates.
Forget the stage. Actors and musicians roam about the spherical room, hiding behind pillars, kicking over chairs in blind rage, standing atop tables and helping themselves to drinks at the bar, even offering them to the audience. It’s messy but effective and we are immersed in an underworld of betrayal and Anglo-Saxon limb extraction.
The music is thunderous and unpredictable, supported by emotive and pitch-perfect vocals. The spoken portions are poetic and melt effortlessly into the accompanying music and acting. As with all great poems, the tone constantly shifts and the audience is with them every step of the way.
The battle – both physical and vocal – between Beowulf and Grendel takes place around the auditorium and amongst the audience as we twist and turn to locate the constantly moving performers. There is also a strong sense of humour to the show and the performers succeed in communicating a whimsicality amid the madness.
The queerness of the Danse Palais Spiegel tent in George Square is the perfect setting for Beowulf; sporting a giant metal chandelier, booth seating and mirrored pillars it feels more like an elaborate gypsy cart than a venue.
While it’s cacophonous and brutal, there are moments of tenderness such as those between Grendel and his malevolent mother.
Beowulf is gritty, daring, intelligent and cleverly executed.