Unicorn Theatre, London – until 5 November 2017
Two walls of Marshall amps sit either side of gleaming trusses. A DJ booth manned by a black-clad figure sports a banner for a place called Heorot. Smoke seeps through vents in the floor and a woman in goth metal dress prowls the stage.
She is Beowulf, warrior of the Geats, on a mission to dave the Danes from a monster that attacks in the night. As her life nears its end, she’s going to tell us her story and reflect on whether or not she was a good leader.
Chris Thorpe’s adaptation of the Old English epic poem is rich with kennings and imagery. Reinvented for the present, Beowulf is a young woman, and does the same with her Danish counterpart Unferth. With a recommended audience of 8 years old and up, Thorpe’s Beowulf is a brilliant role model for girls and young women, and a fantastically feminist reimagining of such a hyper-masculine story.
Unfortunately, the performance doesn’t serve the energy of the script. Quiet and even, the actor takes an intimate approach that soon becomes repetitive. There isn’t nearly enough movement to make the narrative engaging and despite a head mic, she is often hard to hear. Though she has a youthful confidence about her, the aggression and leadership she references isn’t evident.
Samal Blak’s brooding, angular set has a few surprises, but there isn’t enough change to give this production much dynamism when paired with the actor’s delivery. Literal smoke and mirrors shoot beams of light into the audience, and Danny Saul’s music accompaniment strives for gig-theatre – but the text’s delivery doesn’t manage to push this performance into that genre.
With the script and concept the strongest elements of this production, the overall effect is a letdown due to the performance style. In this case, reading Thorpe’s text would have a more fulfilling effect.
Beowulf runs through 5 November.
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