Bringing Beowulf back to life

THIS retelling of Beowulf, the Anglo-Saxon narrative poem, is a vehicle for a father to communicate with his nine-year-old son.

Bringing Beowulf back to life

Beowulf: The Blockbuster is by Pat Moylan Productions. The company has toured the hit plays, Alone it Stands and Stones in His Pockets, so audiences can expect a show with popular appeal. While it centres around an archaic text about a tragic hero and a dragon — it is studied in university — this one-man show, performed by Bryan Burroughs, is accessible and has been garlanded with rave reviews.At last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, it was the only production out of 3,000 shows to receive six five-star reviews.

With no props and the actor playing 20 roles, ‘Beowulf: The Blockbuster’ is intense. The ‘blockbuster’ in the title is how the young boy relates to his father. Both father and son share a love of popular films, such as Stars Wars and Superman. Beowulf: The Blockbuster is interspersed with these contemporary references. The father must tell his boy something important. The drama stems from that

“The audience is in on it fairly quickly, but the boy isn’t,” says Burroughs. “The father uses the story to stall for time.”

Audiences think that the unfolding show is not what they signed up to, says Burroughs. “But as the story goes on, they become like the boy and get more involved and more open to it. They are delighted that they stayed. We know what we’re at, in terms of minding the audience through the show. The father knows he’s got the guts of an hour to raise his son. The father wants to talk to the boy about relationships and love. But no nine-year-old wants to hear about that. So how on earth can the father deal with those issues? Can he sow the seeds so that, in the future, his son might be able to use the story his father told him to help him through life?”

For the father, the story enables him to deal with his own mortality. “It helps him to face up to what he is avoiding. You can almost forget that the Beowulf tale is being told. There are detours and ways in and out. There are moments when I think the story can’t possibly continue and the audience thinks that, too. But the story carries us along.”

The play is physical for Burroughs, it is “a massive challenge, but great craic,” he says, admitting that it takes a physical and emotional toll. “But I don’t know any other exhilaration like it. It’s very fulfilling for an actor.”

Burroughs performed the show at various venues last summer at the West Cork Fit-Up festival. “It was wonderful. We were in different venues every night, in places like Hare Island, Sherkin Island and Ballydehob. Sometimes, I was playing in halls that were cavernous and big. The monster dragon was played huge. Then, I was in a tiny school house. It was just me and the audience, which was two feet away. It was an intimate sharing of the story.

“The audiences in West Cork were very enthused. People seemed to be very taken by it, at the end. My feeling is that the audience expectations for it were probably low. But people came out saying they really enjoyed it. West Cork was a great training ground for the madness of Edinburgh that followed. I’m from Carlow, so I’m not used to the landscape of West Cork, where you’re near the sea. It was an experience that was great for the soul,” Burroughs says.

Colette Sheridan

  • Beowulf: The Blockbuster is at Cork’s Everyman, from March 3-5

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