Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Three darkly dressed women sit on benches in a crypt-like room at the
start of Lynne Parker's staging of Seamus Heaney's majestic version of
what is probably the best-known Old English epic narrative poem to
survive the centuries. With the trio's contemplations underscored by a
whispered chorale, the women could well be Shakespeare's Witches in
retreat, seeking sanctuary or enlightenment or else in mourning in the
gloom. The wooden pillars that flank them are shattered and exposed,
with little shards of debris frozen in mid-air as if hanging from a
Fluxus-inspired peace tree.
When the women start talking, the tale they pass between them, of
Beowulf's heroic slaying of the monster, Grendel, and his even more
monstrous mother after she seeks revenge, is related calmly and without
rancour now the battle is over. While this basic story is simple
enough, it comes accompanied by a cast of characters as myriad as those
in Game of Thrones, which at times it superficially resembles.
Parker's production for the Tron's Commonwealth Games supported Home
Nations Festival 2014 may be subtitled A Dramatic Reading, but,
performed by Helen McAlpine, Lorraine McIntosh and Anita Vettesse with
exquisite flair, Heaney's rich and vivid text transcends mere
story-telling to become a thing of flashing, pulsating life. Every stab
of Beowulf's sword is conjured up by words alone, without unnecessary
recourse to literal gymnastics, but with a raging calm at its root.
While by no means explicitly anti-war, in the current climate one can't
help but think of what happens when real-life monsters invade small and
vulnerable countries. There too, it seems, it is the women who are left
to tell the bloodiest of tales.
The Herald, July 28th 2014