Thursday, 3 February 2005

Beowulf, adapted by David Malikoff, Feb 3, 2005

Beowulf adapted by David Malikoff
 Trades Hall,  February 3 to 19, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 3, 2005

There is a richness of style in David Malikoff's adaptation of Beowulf, the Old English poem.

Malikoff, using a blend of several translations of the original text, narrates and enacts the story of Beowulf, the mighty warrior of Geatland who journeys across the sea to kill the monster, Grendel, that terrorises the Danes.

Single-handedly, he wrests the arm from the fiendish Grendel who subsequently dies. Beowulf is then pitted against Grendel's vengeful and monstrous mother whom he beheads in her own underwater lair.

The warmth and rich texture of Malikoff's voice lends great range to the tale and colours the panoply of mythic characters he portrays.

Paul Plunkett directs Malikoff imaginatively. Simple physical shifts and variations in vocal quality and accent conjure each character and define their differences.

Beowulf stands erect and regal with a deeply resonant voice. The ancient King Hrothgar (OK) of Denmark, is a frail old man and Hrothgar's best warrior is a taunting drunk.

The stage is peopled with characters both human and monstrous.

A wide upstage screen of wood and canvas houses three painted images: cliffs, a portrait of a King and a huge sword. (Linda Martin) The design (Malikoff)  is simple but creates complex moods and locations.

Differing levels are created by one small, low rostrum downstage and a banquet-like table and benches upstage.

The lighting (Paul Plunkett, David Byrnes) is evocative. Multiple floor lights create eerie atmosphere and deep shadows. The screens are lit from behind and the table from below to dramatic effect.

This poem is a masterpiece of its time that still holds an audience enthralled. The interpolated fragments of the original text echo with the lyrical tones of the Germanic-sounding Old English.

Some may recognise the sounds as the language spoken by the Elves in the Lord of the Rings. Indeed, Tolkien was a translator of Beowulf into modern English language.

Malikoff is a charming, skilful and relaxed performer who takes us on a mystical and mythical journey through the chambers, dungeons and banquet halls of Old Herot, the home of the Danish King.

The story resounds with the sagas about heroes and laments the death and dearth of warriors with spirit and courage to lead their people against evil.

It is an epic tale told by one man in many voices.

By Kate Herbert

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