Beowulf, Battersea Arts Centre

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by Laura Kressly

Stories always have monsters. They may not be literal monsters, but anything that’s scary, or an obstacle, or destabilising, or otherwise threatens the story’s hero.

Stories also always have choices. Usually a lot of them, made by the hero, that determine his or her fate.

Beowulf has two monsters – a bog standard monster and a dragon – and many choices that first lead to his victory, then a tragic end. Since Seth Kriebel tells this story on his own, he enlists the audience to help him make Beowulf’s choices in this gently interactive interpretation of one of the word’s oldest tales.

The group choose-your-own adventure is gently steered by Kriebel, accompanied by an expansive, Celtic-y soundtrack. With two smaller, sub groups of the audience chosen to sit on the stage and filter the rest of the audience’s input, the audience becomes one of the most important features, and a multi-layered one. A meta-audience perhaps, as there is an audience watching an audience watching Kriebel, and traditional storytelling is as much about the listeners as it is the teller.

There’s a lovely acknowledgement of traditional oral storytelling, as the stage-audience are invited to tell parts of the story themselves. Both of Beowulf’s battles are told by two men representing the character’s friends, and their word becomes gospel. The other group choose his route to the King’s Hall, then the underwater lake, then the cave. It’s here audience autonomy is somewhat reduced as Kriebel steers the story to its ultimate locations. It’s a nice idea, though prone to repetition particularly if the audience aren’t listening to each other. The script and it’s language is simple and low on imagery, which the interaction does well to cover, but more detail description would be welcomed.

Kriebel possesses a calming authority that holds the stage well, particularly in the face of some audience silliness. His comments on the nature of storytelling and how people alter stories when they tell them is an important reminder in a world where everything is documented and everyone has a hot take.

Beowulf runs through 31 March.

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