AN EARLY highlight of the Town Hall’s spring season comes around next week with Bryan Burroughs’ hugely acclaimed solo show Beowulf: The Blockbuster.
Beautifully crafted and performed, this gripping, funny and poignant “tour-de-force” (New York Times Critics’ Pick ) reminds us that life is not about how we die, but about how we live. This one-man stage phenomenon, from an Edinburgh Fringe First award-winning creative team, is a physical and vibrant show, starring the award-winning actor, and one of Ireland’s most skilled performers, Bryan Burroughs.
The only production in the 2014 Edinburgh Festival Fringe to receive six five star reviews, Beowulf: The Blockbuster combines humour, empathy, and raw emotion to give genuine goosebumps.
“The central idea was I needed a father to be able to talk to his son, they have a difficult time communicating together,” Burroughs explains. “The way in which they connect is through stories and films. The dad in the story has a lot of things he needs to tell his son.
“I was trying to find a classical tale that would allow the dad, in telling the story, to address a lot of the issues with his son. For example, the boy is scared of the dark and the father tries to help him deal with that. I thought initially about Irish myths and legends but then I came across Beowulf, I bought a couple of translations, including Seamus Heaney’s and I read them aloud and it had everything I could possibly want for the larger themes.
“The father wants one hour to tell his son everything he needs to tell him, and Beowulf had everything I needed in terms of story structure, the characters that come in and out of it. It was Heaney’s version that really captured my imagination, it really made me clear about it.”
The play was Bryan’s first foray into writing. “It was growing as an idea, and I was inspired by other actors who wrote, like Amy Conroy with I heart Alice,” he tells me. “She is a very good friend and I was impressed by her drive and ambition and her need to tell a story that she had to write it and that really struck me and there came a point where I had to write this story.
“Initially it was in collaboration with Gavin Kostick, and I thought that maybe Gavin would write the Beowulf part and I would write the father and son part, but what became clear was the Beowulf story had to be told from the father’s point of view. I showed the script to my director David Horan and he made suggestions as to how it could be enhanced, he was a very strong collaborator in how the piece developed.”
I ask whether the father/son theme drew on Bryan’s own experiences?
“I don’t have any children myself,” he replies. “My father passed away when I was in my early twenties, so there was a hole there where there was no longer a father. The show is a work of fiction but it draws on, not just my experiences, but from friends as well. The key thing was a friend of mine, say in my early twenties, who passed away and left behind a little girl. I was both haunted and intrigued by the notion of what he would say to his daughter. If you had an hour to raise a child what would you say?”
The show has been a phenomenal success, both in Ireland and overseas. Did Bryan have any inkling it would do so well?
“I talked about the show’s aspirations with David, about what we could hope for and expect. I directed a show with Aenghus McAnally and I had seen how that one show had changed the perception of him as an actor, and led him to touring around Ireland and Scotland. My ambitions initially were just to have a piece I would enjoy doing but then as we progressed we thought, well, if you are going to do it, really do it, put everything you care about into this piece.
“So we set ourselves a high standard, I was thinking I’d love to go around the world with the show. Now it was out of my hands whether that connection with audiences would happen but because the aspiration was there it kept us working really hard.
“I admit I have being astonished by the response to it and overwhelmed by the contact people have made with me after the show. It seems to speak about something that we don’t speak about very well, either as men or in Ireland as general.”
How much of the play is the Anglo-Saxon story of Beowulf? “About half the play I am reciting Beowulf,” Bryan reveals. “Because the title is Beowulf: The Blockbuster we cover the main points, Beowulf is the thread; the father and son, at times, don’t know what to say to each other and Beowulf is the thread that keeps them together.”
Beowulf: the Blockbuster is at the Town Hall next Thursday January 22 at 8pm. Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie