Beowulf review at Battersea Arts Centre, London – ‘an intelligent, interactive version’
The Old English epic poem Beowulf is given a fun, metafictional update in Seth Kriebel’s new show.
Combining elements of the Oregon Trail, Knightmare and Dungeons and Dragons with a thoughtfully-scripted adventure, his Beowulf occasionally gets tangled up in its postmodern conceit but mostly it delivers both laughter and poetry.
Though technically a one-man show, the action is decided by a nervous but enthusiastic Greek chorus of five audience members chosen by Kriebel in the bar before the play begins.
The script draws liberally on Anglo Saxon kennings – boot-helper for road, bone-barracks for graveyard. Kriebel’s remote controlled soundscape and subtle lighting add another layer to what feels very much like a live action version of an early, conceptually ambitious video game.
Kriebel-as-Beowulf describes his journey to the site of his infamous battle with Grendel, often giving his Greek chorus a set of options – should he explore a cave, head into the wilderness, or turn back? The Greek chorus in turn are encouraged to take their cue from the other audience members, excitably shouting their suggestions from the seats.
The effect is occasionally hilarious, though it does rely heavily on a few confident audience members keeping the momentum going.
Less effective are the two audience members seated to one side at a table – they are Kriebel-as-storyteller’s “friends”, their presence is meant to underline the unreliability of single accounts.
Kriebel intelligently explores the impossibility of an objective narrative and the permeability of plot, but the choose-your-own-adventure element of his Beowulf is the real draw – and it’s surprisingly educational into the bargain. Linguists and LARP enthusiasts in particular will get a kick out of this.
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