At the end of this tale, I’ll go to fight a dragon. And I will be no more. So starts “Beowulf”, the new production at the Unicorn Theatre. A contemporary adaption of the oldest surviving epic poem in Old English by anonymous Anglo-saxon poet, most likely from the Kingdom of Northumbia, the show is all about the text and the power of words, with minimalist mise-en-scène and music. The play is indeed very descriptive of the horror of massacres and wars, and while its anti-war message about cruelty and fear, violence and despair, is clear, it is difficult to find beauty in this tale.
Set in Scandinavia, “Beowulf” tells the adventure of the war hero of the Geats, who has come to assist Hrothgar, the King of the Danes whose feasting hall in Heorot has been under the attack of monster Grendel. After Beowulf has murdered him, Grendel’s mother attacks the hall to be in turn defeated. Victorious, Beowulf returns home to Geatland and later becomes King of the Geats. While defeating a dragon, however, Beowulf is wounded and dies.
While Debbie Korley’s monologue in the title role is simply a tour-de-force performance of story-telling, it is however regretful that other actors are not involved in the show, but seem to be replaced by light and sound effects. As such, despite the atmospheric fumes and explosive flames, the scenography feels lonely and static. Contrary to the breathtaking costumes, together gothic and heavy-metallic by Samal Blak, the decor has been kept to a bare minimum with a metal structure accommodating a DJ set surrounded by towers of amplifiers. These burst out techno music and guitar rock solos, echoing the emotions and tension of the text.
While the play poignantly intends to question the possibility of another, more harmonious world, its form seems to enact a poetry of horror and death, hardly suited to a young audience.