Beowulf in Afghanistan
Created by Laurie Fyffe
Produced by A Likely Story (Ottawa)
60m | 14+ | Drama
Content Warnings: War, violence
What is the nature of heroism? What is courage? How does the hero find peace and defeat the monster called “memory” when he returns home? Beowulf in Afghanistan raises these questions. It has an answer to the first two questions, but fails to answer the third.
Audience members may have a passing knowledge of the epic Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, which describes the mighty feats of a 6th-century pagan prince of the Geats, Beowulf. He came to the aid of the Danes and their king, Hrothgar.
Hrothgar had built a magnificent feasting hall, Heorot. Heorot was repeatedly attacked by Grendel, a powerful half-man half-beast, a fearsome monster who is a son of Cain. He seemed to have powers of invisibility and could not be killed with any human-made weapons. Grendel killed—and ate—many of Hrothgar’s warriors, terrorizing the Danes for years. When Beowulf arrived, he slew Grendel by ripping off his arm and shoulder. In revenge, Grendel’s equally fearsome mother began attacking the Danes. Beowulf fought a mighty battle with her and, using a magic sword, slew her as well. Beowulf then returned with much treasure from the grateful Danes to Geatland, where he ruled as king for 50 years. As he neared the end of his life, a dragon threatened his people. Again a battle, but this time, though he killed the dragon, Beowulf also died.
This is a remarkable play… A must-see at this year’s Fringe.
This poem is taught by a university professor of Classics, Louise (played by Laurie Fyffe). One of her former students, Grant (played by Axandre Lemours) is now a soldier in the Canadian Armed Forces. Louise gave Grant a copy of Beowulf; he took it with him when he was posted to Afghanistan, partially as a distraction and partially because he is haunted by the question of what makes someone a hero. Louise tells him that, like himself, Beowulf stepped outside his own tribe for the sake of another tribe. That’s heroism. And courage? That’s facing and defeating a fearsome monster to protect others, to protect the rest of us, then continuing on with life.
But Grant struggles with continuing on with his life. He’s suffering from PTSD, which is compounded by survivor’s guilt. He survived, a comrade next to him didn’t. The Taliban enemies were invisible, like Grendel.
He wails, “How many times has the war been over? Is it? Peace is a prelude. There is no timeline when you’re facing an enemy you don’t know or understand.” He challenges Louise that a warrior’s dreams should be part of the heroic tale. Which monster followed Beowulf home?
This is a remarkable play, skilfully performed and directed (the director is Kate Smith). A must-see at this year’s Fringe.
Beowulf in Afghanistan is screening at the Ottawa Fringe Festival until June 27, 2021. Tickets are pick-your-price from $12.50 to $47.50 (100% of which goes to the artists) plus a $2.50 surcharge. Visit ottawafringe.com for streaming information and the complete festival lineup. Read more reviews at apt613.ca/fringe. Shows are on-demand, however the festival’s ticketing platform can take up to 12 hours to email the streaming link. So although there’s no risk of online shows selling out, your best bet is to buy tickets early!