A certain irony occurs when tiny puppets perform a Viking saga like Beowulf. According to Steve Pearce, there are more similarities between the two than one might expect.
"There's something antiquated about puppets," says Pearce, one of seven artistic directors and puppeteer with The Old Trout Puppet Workshop. "There's something medieval about them."
According to him, puppets are a perfect medium for the company's production of the seventh century Anglo-Saxon poem.
Co-produced with One Yellow Rabbit, Beowulf: A Viking Puppet Opera is Old Trout's version of the aged epic. It will delight people of all shapes and sizes with mead halls, battlefields, and the sights and sounds of monsters and Vikings. The score, performed by local musicians and layered with poetic voices, helps tell the story of how the vile monster Grendel torments King Hrothgar and his realm.
"Both Hrothgar and Grendel are similar characters with similar strength," says Pearce of the clashing characters. He explains that Old Trout was fascinated by the complicated and conflicted Hrothgar. They decided to focus on the king instead of the more traditional focus on Beowulf's "battle-brave" character.
"Admittedly, we had a little disdain for Beowulf. He's very much like Conan the Barbarian," he explains. For Old Trout, Beowulf will still come and bust it up for the good guys, but the hero will take more of a backseat than in the original saga.
Pearce says the theatre company was initially looking at sagas of German to Norse backgrounds with a desire to develop an understanding of how society is influenced by the old epics. Once they found Beowulf, it was a no-brainer. They wanted to do that story.
"We're fond of the sensibility that it is an ancient story to be told around the fire," he says. Old Trout was drawn to the beautiful language, powerful descriptions and striking metaphors that were contained in the old poem. Naturally, they saw puppets fitting well with it all.
"Puppets, themselves, are grand metaphors-each and every one," he says. Pearce acknowledges that Beowulf: A Viking Puppet Opera is, like many of their other projects, a bit of an experiment in puppet theatre. Although he is quick to note that everyone who attends will be delighted by the show, he also explains that fans of previous shows will get something a little different.
"[It's an experiment in] symbolic gesture, movement, music and less comedic aspects [creating] a visual, dreamlike engagement," he says. "This one is a little more tragic than other shows we've done."
The hour-long Beowulf: A Viking Puppet Opera hopes to enchant audiences with a age old tale: puppet-style.