Adelaide Festival: Beowulf – A Thousand Years Of Baggage

Beowulf, was originally written sometime between the 8th and 11th centuries as an epic Anglo-Saxon poem. Jason Craig’s incarnation; Beowulf – A Thousand Years Of Baggage, makes its Australian premiere at the German Club as part of the 2013 Adelaide Festival.

Jason Craig as Beowulf. Photo by Chloe Laetitia Thomas
Jason Craig as Beowulf. Photo by Chloe Laetitia Thomas

Husband and wife team Jason Craig and Jessica Jelliffe are co-artistic directors of the ensemble theatre company, Banana Bag & Bodice. They both perform in this production with Craig in the titular role, looking like a cross between the French comic book characters Asterix and Obelix. Craig describes this adaptation as a ‘SongPlay’, and the description fits.

Backed by a seven-piece band, the show veers between academic discussion, traditional theatrical drama, songs and instrumental breaks. In reference to the mead hall performances of its original form, the action takes place between tables, on tables and around the room in a cabaret setting. While at times the actors are actively engaging the audience to encourage an atmosphere of rowdy swill in bierhaus revelry which doesn’t quite work-  or at least it didn’t on the night of this review.

In a standard good vs. evil tale, Beowulf battles dragons and his adversaries Grendel (Rod Hipskind) and Grendel’s mother (Jelliffe), who live under a lake represented by two small fish tanks (a more contemporary setting might have them safely ensconced in a dark basement planning world domination). Naturally, good triumphs in the end.

However, the play itself isn’t quite the triumph it would like to be. It doesn’t have the intensity of its Adelaide Festival sister production, The Strange Undoing of Prudentia Hart. At times it shows a striking resemblance to RocKwiz  – and it is more SBS than ABC, more Adelaide Fringe than Adelaide Festival. It just lacks that underlying magnetism that makes a show remarkable rather than simply adequate.

It is certainly not a failure either and the music employed in the production is great. Jen Baker on Trombone, Rick Burkhardt on Guitar, Ezra Gale on Bass, Mario Maggio on Clarinet/Bass Clarinet, Brian McCorkle on Piano/Accordion, Andy Strain on Trombone and Pete Wise on Drums. Each plays a variety of musical styles with absolute professionalism.

If you’re a literature buff or simply one of those many people enamoured by the original poem then you’ll probably get something out of this production.

Otherwise, Beowulf – A Thousand Years Of Baggage fails to take its place as a jewel in the 2013 Adelaide Festival crown.

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