August 2014 - Edinburgh Festival Fringe | Pleasance Courtyard
This one-man epic isn’t really about mythical beasts and distant lands, although these do feature. Nor is it about traditional kinds of heroes, although it is about heroic acts. Nor does it have a large set filled with projected film footage, just a single actor and an empty, beautifully lit stage. Written and performed by the supremely talented Bryan Burroughs – playing three generations of a family – it’s actually a celebration of how we use fiction, whether it’s Beowulf or Star Wars, to say the things that we struggle to express any other way.
As a dying man attempts to prepare his young son for life without him, stories – in particular Beowulf – become a means of explaining the unexplainable. Not all heroes can survive all battles is what the man wants to say. However, it isn’t something a young boy fed on the Hollywood dream of good conquering all evil wants to hear, especially when his “Da” is covered in tubes and recently returned from hospital.
Burroughs beautifully captures the relationships between fathers and sons, as well as the women who occasionally make an appearance – the boy’s mother is dead, his grandmother an annoyance and girls in school mysterious. This world of action-packed adventure stories is portrayed as a place solely shared by lads and dads. But what a place it is.
Beowulf has the voice of Sean Connery, Grendel that of a stereotypical English villain and “evil” takes on increasingly elaborate guises as the father tries, largely unsuccessfully, to turn it into a metaphor for terminal illness. “Is this a story with a message?” the boy at one point asks critically, horrified at the prospect yet unable to grasp its devastating meaning.
Both father and son are repeatedly drawn towards the happy endings of blockbuster films – the ones that come so naturally because they feel like life should be. They don’t want to deal with tragedy and, if the sniffling audience is anything to go by, neither do we. But eventually, with lightsabers in hand, father and son show that heroism can come not only from cheating death but through facing it.