‘Beowulf’ Revamped

The A.R.T. puts a modern musical twist on a medieval epic.

beowulf play

Photo by Ryan Jensen

Take an old English epic poem, throw in a modern-day cabaret influence and music types ranging from jazz to rock to electronica, finish it off with some beer, and you’ve got Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage, a new production from the Brooklyn-based theater company Banana Bag & Bodice at the American Repertory Theater’s Oberon space.

Among a spate of literary classics coming to life on Boston stages this month—including Hamlet, at BU, and an Iliad adaptation, at ArtsEmerson—Beowulf might deviate the most from what could be called a traditional rendition.

“It’s considered a song play, which is not necessarily a full-blown musical,” says Ari Barbanell, the A.R.T.’s director of special projects. “It’s sort of a rock-cabaret-style show. It’s Beowulf done in a totally blow-it-out-of-the-water kind of way.”

The poem tells the story of the Scandinavian hero Beowulf, who sets off to slay the villain Grendel, a violent beast that has been attacking King Hroðgar’s mead hall. The A.R.T. performance’s three-week run, set to begin April 16, will feature six characters, including a singing Beowulf and a sloppy, beer-drinking Grendel. According to Barbanell, the show takes the poem and “makes it accessible and celebratory and filled with music.” The audience surrounding the Oberon stage, meanwhile, will get an intimate view of the action, perhaps even downing a few drinks Grendel-style.