“Oh, you’re going to make a Fringe show? … about the incredibly gruesome Anglo-Saxon hero legend, ‘Beowulf’? … and you’re going to retain some of the Old English song and narration? … and on top of that, you’re going to weave in a modern-day narrative about a little girl’s mum who’s been diagnosed with cancer? ... and it’s aimed at kids??”
Foolhardy, perhaps, but somehow the excellently named Take Thou That theatre company (who you may remember from 2017’s Jason and the Argonauts) make it work. They do retain some of the original’s gore, yes, but it’s very rarely revelled in, and is offset by some humorous special effects when Beowulf, er, disarms the villainous Grendel (think: ribbons). And yes, the cast do often speak and sing (both very convincingly) in nigh-impenetrable Old English, but plucky young Sophie and her academic mother are usually on hand to help translate, and even in those cases where they don’t, the action and tone are clear enough guides.
The narrative framework presented by Sophie and her mum is actually key to the play’s success: the pair provide a point of recognition and identification amid all the mead-swigging and monster mutilation, including giving some relatable context to the hero’s eventual passing. (No, we’re not offering spoiler alerts for a thousand-year-old legend – this isn’t season eight of Game of Thrones you know, though it could give it a run for its money.)
Performance-wise, the eight-strong cast are delightful, with Beowulf (Charlie Layburn) possessed of a pure-hearted charisma that could win over both a warrior-king and an inquisitive nine-year-old. The mother-daughter bond at the play’s core is also affectingly portrayed. NIKI BOYLE
Underbelly, Bristo Square until 17 August, 11:40am.
The Little Musician (****)
A little girl heads off to find the sun, helped by a flock of glove puppets of greenish hue and her recorder, to play it back to earth (a lesson to all good children to practise). Not entirely clear how she pulls it off but it’s the journey that matters.
The Little Musician is a bit of a slow-burn show that is firmly for the younger child but it comes alive with the delightfully stupid Baba Song, an amiable puppet bear and the three stooges our heroine encounters along the way. They tried to pinch her recorder, but she wins them over with the bear.
It is nicely non-threatening with uncomplicated sets – moving, echoing mountains, amusing water sound effects, shafts of sunlight. South Korea’s Brush Theatre have been operating for about two years, and the heavily accented English adds to the fun.
The show builds to a fine dramatic finish with a thunderous sea of bubble wrap and blow-up icebergs (do NOT try this at home). Kim Mi-young is a sympathetic lead while Kim Sung-hawn, the leading man, is a fine comic actor. Cho Ye-kyung is at the piano with a pleasing score. TIM CORNWELL
Assembly Roxy until 26 August, 12:15pm.
Stick By Me (****)
Stick By Me explores the world of a very young child, this time using a minimal set, and the simplest of physical comedy, to imagine a child testing the boundaries of his world, accompanied by a series of friendly lollipop sticks who become his pals. Only a pair of unseen parental voices interrupt his play, usually to say “no”, sometimes to encourage; in a show that speaks directly to the experience of pre-school children, and makes its point, with the simplest of means. JOYCE MCMILLAN
Dance Base until 26 August, 12.30pm