Beowulf – A Thousand Years Of Baggage
Postmodern interaction with a classic
This article is from 2011.
As Beowulf was pitted against the manbeast Grendel in the Old English epic, NY theatre company Banana Bag & Bodice pits Beowulf the man against Beowulf the text in this clever, stylish interaction with a classic.
Seemingly set in a jazz club, three buttoned-down academics attempt a psychoanalytical reading of the text, casting Grendel as a beer-swilling, violence-loving ogre (brought to the stage by the David Cross-ish Rod Hipskind). Dealing with the difficulties of interpretation and translation the story manifests as the academics and their backing band step into the roles. What ensues is closest in form to a musical. The extremely capable band, led by Dave Malloy representing King Hrothgar, provides a soundtrack of swinging show tunes and polkas as Beowulf is depicted as a big dumb hero (think Ben Stiller in Tropic Thunder played by Jason Craig), a model of masculinity in contrast to the snide villainy of Grendel.
Deftly balancing the aspects of narrative, commentary, music and action (with a large injection of humour), the cast inventively plays out the psychodrama of the text as well as the struggle of the academics to wrestle the characters into conforming to their interpretations.
A slow building first half leads to the middle section of the epic (with Grendel’s mother) feeling rushed and the final section (with the dragon) almost absent until Beowulf objects and the finale merges him with his ultimate foe: misrepresentation. This kind of meta extravaganza – commenting on the commentary surrounding Beowulf – is likely to divide audiences into those who relish spotting references and those who find it irksomely clever-clever. The company provides enough vitality, inventiveness and humour that proceedings never feel dry. This is pure entertainment with an added literary twist.
Assembly George Square, 623 3030, until 29 Aug, 4pm, £14 (£12).