Review – Grendel

Aug 21 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩   Mixed disciplines, mixed success

Voicebox Theatre's Grendel Photo © Stuart Barrett

Voicebox Theatre’s Grendel Photo © Stuart Barrett

The Space @ Venue 45
Tues 20 – Sat 24 August 2013
Review by Hugh Simpson

Voice Box Theatre’s Grendel is a retelling of Beowulf from the point of view of the monster. The Edinburgh-based collective achieve this using an individual mixture of physical theatre, acrobatics and circus skills which, while not always successful, is frequently stunning.

The decision to make Grendel the central figure, exploring society’s need for ‘monsters’, moves the story away from the original, making it curiously reminiscent of Frankenstein (particularly the Universal film with Boris Karloff as the Monster).

There are some interesting points about how the structure of society seems to depend on having scapegoat figures, but these are somewhat crudely made. This is not helped by some of the acting. The speeches no doubt strive for a mythic resonance, but this is probably not best achieved by leaving long pauses and shouting in between them.

The physical acting is in stark contrast to this. Michael Ritchie, who also wrote and directed, shows extraordinary control as Grendel, while Rob Sproul-Cran is his equal as Beowulf. Fiona Larkin’s Hrothgar, complete with disquieting costume, is suitably unsettling, and Isabelle Wolff shows a natural ease and grace. Jelena Markovic has the difficult task of opening the show as the Shaper, but soon settles into her role, while Beth Frieden, Rachel Seymour and Adam Boardman provide excellent support.

The seductive nature of violence and evil

The acrobatics are breathtaking and frequently have you worrying for the participants’ safety. It seems to be a deliberate choice that, while some of the co-operative displays are full of straining effort and potential danger, the fight scenes are balletic and beautiful, even when the combatants are being thrown through the air. This makes a point about the seductive nature of violence and evil much more effectively than the comparatively ineffective dialogue.

There is also some beautifully achieved puppet work with a dragon; the only small let-down regarding the physical skills is the apparent unfamiliarity with the height of the lighting gantry interfering with some of the juggling.

This was not the only problem associated with the lighting – whether through deliberate choice or an oversight, some of the climactic fight scenes were staged in Stygian gloom at the point of the acting space furthest from most of the audience, which was less than satisfactory.

The whole performance was soundtracked by Sorayah Alvevyudkaf and Jamie MacNeill on a variety of percussion instruments. Their contribution was particularly noteworthy, displaying a willingness to commentate on the action and underscore it without ever seeking to overwhelm it.

Voice Box claim this show ‘forges an exciting new genre in cross-disciplinary storytelling.’ While this is a little wide of the mark for the moment, it is certainly an intriguing work, and there is enough evidence here to suggest it may yet happen. Besides, at a time when the ‘corporatisation’ of the Fringe seems more of a hot topic than ever, it is important to remember that there must always be a place for companies whose reach exceeds their grasp.

Running time 50 minutes
Run ends Saturday 24 August 2013
Daily at 8.05 pm
Venue 45, The Space @ Venue 45, 63 Jeffrey Street, EH1 1DH
Tickets from
Voice Box Theatre website:


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Comments (1)

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  1. Thank you for this review.
    It is great for us to get such prompt and professional feedback.
    Voice Box Theatre Company