Beowulf – A Thousand Years of Baggage
BBB (Banana Bag & Bodice) @ The German Club
9:00pm, Fri 15 Mar 2013
The great thing about seeing a lot of shows solo is that you don’t face a lot of problems with general admission seating; as a result, I was able to leave a late-finishing Solaris, duck home for some coffee, and make it back to rapidly filling third floor of The German Club and still snag a beer and a great seat on a central table. Of course, as soon as I sat down my knees hit something under the table; I peeked beneath, but the obstruction was ensconced in the same material as the tablecloth. I shifted my orientation and paid it no further mind.
Performed as a “SongPlay” (as opposed to “musical”, perhaps?) by Brooklyn-based BBB, Beowulf kicks off with three academics contemplating the original Old English text; but suddenly, the play comes to life, with Beowulf appearing from within the audience, fighting the monster Grendel (and Grendel’s mother) to the death… all the while accompanied by a rollicking seven-piece band (including a horn section and extremely capable backing singers).
Beowulf, wonderfully played with comic gruffness by Jason Craig, gets the lion’s share of the modernised dialogue, and his songs are a treat: equal parts exposition and humorous interpretation, the lyrics are always confidently delivered. And whilst the band largely stays rooted to the stage, the performance roams the hall – the central table I was sitting at was the stage for one of the more intense fight scenes, and the object under the table (that I’d encountered earlier) turned out to be a bloodied stunt arm that was ripped from Grendel’s body.
I noticed that some reviews were very critical of Beowulf, attacking the dumbing-down of the subject matter and lack of (promised) audience participation. But for me, this was a bloody fantastic show: a rollicking rock-and-roll treatment of a classic story that feels utterly at home in a beer hall, performed with over-the-top cabaret sensibilities with tongue planted firmly in cheek. It could be argued that this was, perhaps, Fringe entertainment on a grand scale, but that’s just fine by me.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) March 15, 2013