|Epic poetry a perfect fit for surreal puppet show
The Old Trout Puppet Workshop revives Beowulf
Old Trout Puppet Workshop
February 26 to March 16
Big Secret Theatre (CPA)
Theres a certain inevitability to the idea of The Old Trout Puppet Workshop taking on Beowulf. Always drawn to larger-than-life myths and legends, the collaborators responsible for The Ice King and The Unlikely Birth of Istvan may have been working up to the epic poem all this time.
"It is a perfect fit for puppets, with monsters, kings, and dark, evil goings-on," says the Old Trouts' Judd Palmer.
He points out that the 1,000-year-old poem has had its ups and downs in the popular consciousness, and was resurrected during the First World War, when British academics decided that the British soldiers needed a national poem to rival the Germans rich store of legends. Recently, Seamus Heaneys translation of the poem actually made the New York Times best-seller list. World events have given the production even more relevance, Palmer says.
"This was a late realization in the process, but we are entering into a new war, and the mythology of it is found there as well pointing fingers, and figuring out whos on Gods side and whos not on Gods side," he explains. "It turned into this really powerful piece of work, because were still behaving the same way, a thousand years later. We still have the same fundamental psychological structures, the same capacity for propagandizing our own side."
The Trouts are particulary inspired by the portion of the poem in which the Danish king Hrothgar is under attack by the monster Grendel, and Beowulf arrives to kill the monster and save the kingdom. Still, the show is not a recital of the poem or a direct representation of its action.
"Its traditional for the Old Trouts surreal and fantastical and is maybe more of a thematic representation than a literal one," says Palmer. "In other words, were taking events and pieces of striking poetry out of the original poem and stringing them all together into this great sort of circular metaphysical muck that were hurling at the audience."
Another Old Trout, Steve Pearce, adds that the group has spent time sorting through Beowulf for the parts of the poem that have the most resonance today.
"So, in many ways, the poem has been filtered through us, taking it out of the realm of the actual words of the poem and into its theme and psychology," says Pearce. "That gives us the chance to sort of play with what goes on inside our own heads as we read Beowulf today."
To describe the show, Pearce draws on everything from Viking legend to Jorge Luis Borges to theories of cognitive development, but if the Trouts' previous shows are any guide, there will be nothing academic about the final product, a mélange of monsters and dragons and flying Valkyries.