Part of a trio of shows playing a season of the Adelaide Fringe to celebrate Irish independence is Beowulf: The Blockbuster.
Presented by Arts Projects Australia with support from Culture Ireland, the three plays (Beowulf: The Blockbuster, Underneath and Little Thing, Big Thing) will play at the German Club for the duration of the festival.
Bryan Burroughs, an actor and teacher at the Lir Academy of Dramatic Arts in Ireland, originally devised Beowulf: The Blockbuster as part of a Dublin Fringe Festival program.
“There’s an initiative called ‘Show in a Bag’ and it’s organised by Fishamble and the Irish Theatre Institute. They encourage actors to come and submit ideas for a show they’d like to do, either a single show or a two-hander. They then assign you a writer to write it and a mentor director,” he says.
“You’re put into a pool of ideas and then there’s a shortlist. There’s an interview after that and then they take four or five shows to develop. I had directed a few of these ‘Show in a Bags’ before for other actors, and I had an idea brewing about father and son relationships and a need to tell a story. I presented it to them saying I was going to do it anyway, whether they would take it on or not, but I’d love to do it with them. So I started devising it myself in a room and eventually the play just demanded to be written.”
The one man show is about a father’s need to tell his son something, but his son won’t make it easy for him, which forces the father to make his story more entertaining.
“It’s a father’s last bedtime story to his son and the father has something he needs to tell his son, but he doesn’t quite know how, so to stall for time, he starts telling him a yarn, and that yarn is Beowulf,” Bryan says.
“He starts with what is the Anglo Saxon tale, and as he starts to tell it, he realises inside that story is everything he needs to tell his son. But the son doesn’t want to hear some dry old tale about Beowulf and some battle that happened back before it mattered to him. His frame of reference is films like Superman, Star Wars and Indiana Jones; things he’s seen with his father.
“He insists the story take twists and turns and the father realises he has to pep the story up with more blockbuster elements to keep the boy’s attention. The two of them go through a journey in the story and, without giving too much away, the boy is having terrible trouble at school. He’s getting bullied and he’s scared of the dark. He struggles with a lot of things so the dad is trying to address those issues in the time they have.”
The show was so well received at Dublin Fringe, Bryan had an opportunity to take it to New York and Edinburgh and is thrilled to be bringing it here to Adelaide.
“We’re aware of how ridiculously hard we worked to make it compelling and engaging, but it’s been incredible how well received it’s been. We seem to have tapped into something primal, and connected with people, whereby they see themselves in either the father, the son or being a parent or child. We’ve tried to make it as funny and engaging as possible. It’s been wonderful. It went well in the Dublin Fringe so we took it to New York and then to Edinburgh,” he says.
“Coming over representing your country with a piece of theatre you hope will connect with them is great. The big thing for me is I’m dying to see if this show will connect with the audiences in Adelaide the way folk around the world have connected with it. Part of the appeal of the show for me is that it seems to have a universal connection.
“Also, without giving too much away, there’s a very strong Australian thread in one section of the show, which has been going down very well! When we do it in Australia, I’ll have my heart in my mouth thinking I could live or die by what happens here! Either it’ll be embraced, or I’ll be run out of town. So there’s a few things to look forward to!”
This may be Bryan’s first time at Adelaide Fringe, but it’s not his first time in Australia.
As he sat in his cottage in Ireland, he told us all about his fly-by visit down under and his moment in the sun.
“We were in Albany last year for one show. We flew over on a Sunday night, got there on a Tuesday, had a day off to rest, had tech on Thursday and did the show Friday night and flew back to Ireland on the Saturday. So that was our whirlwind trip! We had a ball and we did everything we were told not to do! Everyone we met said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t go out in the sun at this hour on this day.’ Of course my friend and I both strolled out into the sun saying, ‘Oh, this isn’t too bad!’ and we both got burnt to a crisp! I had to do a show with the reddest head you’ve ever seen!” he laughs.
Beowulf: The Blockbuster opens on February 23 and will play until March 13 – book your tickets through Fringetix.
By Libby Parker