The Fringe Encores Series brought shows from seven English-language fringe festivals this year and presented them at the Soho Playhouse here in New York. One was a two-man production of an play called Beowulf from the Limerick Festival. Sam Gibbs and Peter Buffery call comprise Autojeu Theater, and they come from London. The act is a riff on the Old English poem.
Beowulf is the sort of enjoyable, inconsequential theater we expect from fringe theater. It clocks in at a little over an hour, and it’s nearly a monologue by Mr. Gibbs. Mr. Buffery play the keys on stage; he never speaks, but he has an onstage life when called upon, and part of the fun is seeing Mr. Gibbs relate to him occasionally. He sings a couple of nice songs in an appealing voice, and provides us with all sort of nice, silly sounds.
Mr. Gibbs, a bearded, burly guy, plays 14 roles, primarily a macho, blustering Beowulf. “I am Beowulf’ he bellows several times. His bombast, of course, is constantly trivialized, and therein lies much of the joke. Is his name pronounced Bay-o-wulf or Bee-o-wulf? There’s a sailor, a recurrent role, constantly seasick. Beowulf himself is undercut; 50 years have passed since he slew Grendel and his mother, and he’s expected to slay yet another dragon, poor, reluctant guy. After all, even at the beginning of the play, a raconteur told us that the match was “pensioner vs beast”.
The whole thing is influenced by Monty Python. Mr. Gibbs is at his best in the presto exchanges between two characters, pivoting from left to right as the speaker changes.
These are talented performers, without question, but Mr. Gibbs tries too hard to be funny throughout the show, like a stand-up. Autojeu needs better material. The script makes the story unclear, although he can speak to us however he likes.
This sort of send-up needs to take itself seriously from time to time and anchor itself in the source material:
“Lo! the Spear-Danes’ glory through splendid achievements
The folk-kings’ former fame we have heard of,
How princes displayed then their prowess-in-battle.”
But no matter. Let ’s hope The Best of the Fringe keeps collecting this oddities and letting us take a look at them.