Reviewed by David Walters
Beowulf is a long form epic poem considered the oldest surviving authored in Old English, written in England between the 8th and 11th centuries (depending on which scholar you follow) and set in Scandinavia. It tells the tale of the hero, Beowulf, who goes to the aid of a king in a neighboring land, Hrothgar, to kill Grendel who is torturing the kingdom. Without weapons, he physically rips off Grendel’s arm killing him. This pisses off Grendel’s mother who comes to destroy and wreak havoc. After this mayhem, mom escapes back to her lair under a lake. Beowulf follows, fights her and resurfaces victorious. He then goes home, becomes king there, lives and rules for 50 years, until a dragon comes to take revenge for a stolen goblet. Rekindling his heroic stature, he goes, with an army, to kill the dragon. His men hide in fear, save for one soldier, and the two of them together slay the dragon, but leave Beowulf with a mortal wound. He dies, and a great funeral pyre is ignited to celebrate his heroic life.
Some scholars consider the poem to be a transcript from a fire-side story telling, making it more than ripe for what these two crazy guys have done to it.
Pythonesque in their approach, mercurial in their depictions, irreverent in their storytelling, skilled in their craft, delightful in their song, they find continuous fun in the opera-like story and make that fun contagious.
Utilizing nothing but his mind and body (and donning a fake furry costume that adds to the boisterousness), Sam has a wonderfully precise mime skill that allows the audience to picture exactly what he is describing: from fireworks, to sword, to fish, to cane, to fellow soldier vomiting his lunch.
Pete adds a depth of color and sound to the show, operating a Foley board, singing beautiful songs that he composed, and playing a foil for Sam as he lays out the tale of adventure. (Side note: he is raising money for the homeless this season, selling a beautiful song, for only .27, that he composed, A Different Type of Christmas https://pickpocketsband.bandcamp.com/releases )
There is a great sense of play between the two of them that only adds to the fun and frolic through this magnificent tale, so bring your irreverent letting-go self, not your scholarly self. This is a great time and well worth the ticket price.
I also need to highlight The Fringe Encore Series that Beowulf is part of. It’s a great opportunity to see shows that have won awards from fringe festivals around the globe. The Fringe Encore Series assembled the “Best of the Fests” from around the world (Brighton, Edinburgh, Hollywood, Limerick, Orlando, Toronto and New York) and gave them a short run at The Soho Playhouse. The full series is running through December 16, 2018. Tickets are $39/$25 and can be purchased by visiting www.fringeencores.org. There’s a lot of really cool stuff that they’ve brought to New York, something for everyone: comedy, drama, family musicals, cabaret shows. It’s a wonderful opportunity for theater lovers to experience “the best of” from around the world. Do take a look at the many wonderful offerings and go see something magical.
Beowulf – Created and devised by Sam Gibbs and Pete Buffery, based on the epic Old English poem. Music and sound by Pete Buffery.
Presented by Autojeu through December 16 at The Fringe Encore Series, Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street, NYC 10013