Festival Review: Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage

Beowulf_A_Thousand_Years_of_Baggage_BBB_Adelaide_Festival_mediumPresented by Banana Bag & Bodice
Reviewed Monday 11th March 2013

Jessica Jelliffe’s production, for the company that she and her husband, Jason Craig, are co-artistic directors, takes a fresh approach to presenting the ninth century Old English epic poem, looking at it through modern eyes.

Written by Jason Craig, with music by Dave Molloy and co-directed by Rod Hipskind and Mallory Catlett the work opens with a man and two women delivering a lecture on Beowulf, and a more ill-prepared trio of ‘experts’ you would have trouble finding. It is clear that tongues are going to be very firmly in cheeks with this production.

The curtains fly open and there sits a seven piece band, with two backing singers, bursting immediately into life. From here on, there is no let up in the pace as the tale is told of the Scandinavian warrior Beowulf, who saves a kingdom by killing the monster Grendl, then also has to destroy Grendl’s vengeful mother. He later becomes a king himself and is forced to battle a dragon, a very important part of the tale that is all too often omitted, and without which there is no real resolution, but it turns up in this production in a brief coda, at the insistence of the bespectacled Beowulf.

In part, it is a play, but with integral songs, and it is performed here in cabaret format using the entire room as a performance space. It thus plays with genres as much as it draws on a wide range of musical styles, with a strong nod to Kurt Weill, yet moments reminiscent of Sondheim, and even hints of Les Miserables or Jesus Christ Superstar. One song is even sung in Anglo Saxon.

The members of the company manage to distil the essence of the poem, the modern influences work well and do not detract in any way from the work but. Most importantly, though, they create some wonderfully imaginative characters that really bring the story to life, whilst injecting enough humour that the educational aspects would not be noticed by audience members until after show, when they realise how much they have learned.

This is definitely something very different and should surely be on every Festival must see list.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

Adelaide Festival page

Venue: German Club, 223 Flinders Street, Adelaide
Season: to 16th March 2013
Duration: 70mins
Tickets: $30 to $49
Bookings: BASS 131 246 or here

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