‘Puppet Beowulf?’ my flatmate asked me with a raised eyebrow and quizzical expression as I left the flat to review Atomic Force Production’s new show. But not only is this show definitely a hit: it’s also one of the best constructed and intricate shows I’ve seen this year.

It left me with more questions I need to ask myself than I thought I would find.

The show retells the Old English epic of the hero Beowulf – who travels to the home of the Danes to fight the infamous monster Grendel – through poetry, live music and, yes, puppetry. The story is told by a poet, played by Tom Dussek, who guides us through the narrative and sets each scene. Dussek is a natural storyteller who can command the room with ease and, such is his charm and talent, he can transform a couple of carefully constructed ladders on a box into a Danish mead hall with just a few words.

The show achieves much with very little, using only limited props and set. The team relies on strong lighting and sound design to set the mood and scene perfectly. Live music complements every moment in the story, be it the thudding drum beat when danger approaches or the quiet, eerie sounds of the electric keyboard.

The script itself is well composed. The story is told in verse, which rolls off Dussek’s tongue and keeps the play close to the poem’s origins as an oral tale. The show is surprisingly poignant, weaving a rather intelligent argument about the nature of stories and why we as people need them, into the overall plot. It left me with more questions I need to ask myself than I thought I would find.

The real strong point of the show is the mood it creates. All of the elements came together to make me feel that I was a child again, listening to someone telling me a thrilling story and having it all play out in my mind. I found myself oohing and aahing when Beowulf took to sea on his ship and gasping during his fight with Grendel. 

Reviews by Joseph McAulay

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The Blurb

A contemporary version of the Anglo-Saxon epic, combining tabletop and shadow puppetry, live music and poetry. A poet performs the tale in verse, bringing the story to life with a memorable cast of puppet characters, each with their own unique voice and style. They debate, dance and battle their way through a story about bravery, fame and humanity. ‘An excellent, modern, family-friendly tale ... The Saxon storytellers would be proud’ (Argus). Sold out at Brighton Fringe 2014. Part of the Sea of Stories season at Sweet Venues.