Review: “short, unpredictable and extremely fun” — Beowulf at Battersea Arts Centre

The ancient tale of Beowulf is given a fresh platform in Seth Kriebel’s unpredictable, interactive performance-game

In the interests of full disclosure, I’d like to share that an evening of audience participation is not my idea of an ideal Thursday night.

But as I squirmed in my seat at Battersea Arts Centre, desperately avoiding eye contact with the main protagonist, one thing was clear: the audience loved every second of this energetic performance.

The free-flowing laughter and shouts of the audience were testament to Kriebel’s skill as a storyteller. As he told us at the beginning of the evening: “How a story ends isn’t really important, it’s how you tell it.”

It is not with props and costumes that Kriebel evokes the audience’s imagination, but rather with the power of words.

The set up is simple, with seven audience members chosen to join Kriebel on stage and lead the progression of the Beowulf story whilst frequently appealing to the wider assembly for guidance.

Shouts from the audience of “Follow the path, no, take the woods!” in a Crystal Maze-esque frenzy certainly makes for interesting viewing.

Speaking with Kriebel earlier this week, he shared his own perspective of the performance and his role within it.

He said: “When I’m doing something interactive, it’s quite nice that it changes every night because the audience decides they want to do that or this, but you can only change it so much before it’s not Beowulf anymore – like in Star Wars, if they don’t blow up the Death Star, is it really Star Wars?

“I don’t think I’m an actor. Actors pretend to be other people whereas the first thing I do when I start a show is say ‘Hi, I’m Seth, thanks for coming’.

“I’m not Beowulf standing there with a helmet with horns on it, holding a spear and speaking Old English. It’s me telling a story. I would be the last person you would want to cast in a normal play to pretend to be a character, I’m not an actor at all.”

Familiarity with the tale of Beowulf is not essential to viewing Kriebel’s interpretation; yet in the midst of frequent to-ing and fro-ing between storyteller and audience, I do wonder if I would have been able to follow the plot thread without dusting off my A-Level literature knowledge prior to the evening.

The performance is short, unpredictable and, even for those with a loathing of audience participation, extremely fun.

Beowulf is now showing at the Battersea Arts Centre until 31st March.

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