The Devil in the Shadows / by Andrew Shakeshaft
Cast in order of appearance:
+ other non-speaking roles: large number of soldiers belonging to Hrothgar's court + soldiers accompanying Beowulf.
Sample Pages from the script
The Grandfather makes a grunting noise and sinks back into his
chair, mumbling to himself.
BLACKSMITH imitating the noise
Hunuh! yourself! [To the Son] Son, has this floor been swept?
A simple question asked, a simple answer sought. Is it swept?
So where is all the dust?
I ...it's ...
Where is the pile you have swept it into?
I ... I ...
I don't have one.
So what have you done?
You have pushed it around the room. You have taken it on holiday. What was there is now here - what was there has now taken a trip over to here. You have not swept, have you? [Grandfather chuckles to himself.] Do it again.
Can't even control his son....
Quiet yourself, or there'll be little food on your plate tonight.
GRANDFATHER grunting again and mumbling to himself
So much time spent on one job. So much time.
BLACKSMITH to the Son
The Son sweeps the dust into a pile.
When I was young I could hammer forty-two swords in three days. My hands would bleed sometimes but I'd struggle through the pain.
And look at you now. [To the Son] In a pile, sweep it in a pile. We are attempting to trap the dirt, not set it free. How many times? Slowly ... patiently ...
The Son brushes slower.
So where is it? This work must have a product. So much noise and fury must have created something.
BLACKSMITH to the Son
Son, fetch them. [The Son looks at him unsure.] Let go of the brush and fetch them. Without you swishing around, the dust might have a chance of gathering in a pile all by itself. [The Son
fetches a large box full of metallic objects. He places it in the middle of the floor.] There is my work.
There ... [The Son tips the contents of the box out on a signal from the Blacksmith] ... fifty-seven ladles.
confused and amused Ladles?
Fifty-seven of them. Count them. [The Son starts to count them.] Not you. Him.
Three days for fifty-four swords, that was me. You ... you are three days for fifty-seven soup spoons.
No one needs swords.
Soldiers need swords.
Soldiers at war need swords. Soldiers at peace need food to give them strength to train and grow strong. An army's strength comes from its belly.
A belly full of soup.
I give up.
You can never have too much soup.
BLACKSMITH to the Son
Clear them away.
GRANDFATHER Or is it a deadly soup spoon that could kill a man with a single blow?
There are no wars any more.
'Don't come near I'm armed with deadly cutlery!'
This is what you do! This is what you drive me to. I sweat my blood to keep you sitting there with your belly full and mouth flapping. It's me that's worked this family from out of the ground to where we are now.
Congratulations! Aren't we doing well!
You close your mouth or so help me, I will bash your ageing bones into their waiting grave.
The Grandfather is silent The Blacksmith turns his back on him.
What, with a soup spoon?
In a rage, the Blacksmith picks up a ladle and goes for the Grandfather. The Grandfather squeals and falls out of his chair. The Blacksmith stops short of hitting him. The Grandfather cowers. The Blacksmith towers over him.
I wouldn't waste my strength. Son, sweep the floor.
The Son does so.
Hrothgar holds up his hand to stop the 1st Advisor speaking. He
does so. The two advisors leave, obedient to a gesture from the
Poet, what do you write?
Very little, sire, very little.
Why is that?
There is little to write about.
The sun still rises, does it not?
Aye, sire, but it rises over a land that is bored with itself. It has no enemies, no mighty foe to rise against. It just sits, panting like a wild dog who has chased the hare, caught it, ate it, and then has nothing left to do for the rest of the day.
You too are dreaming of war.
No, sire, I am not as blind as Unferth. I know what war is. I have seen it too many times to still believe it holds a glory or a fascination. I just wish we had something to replace it with.
If the sacrifice I must make for peace is never having to hear you read again, I'm afraid I will take it.
I understand. Though I shall not pretend I am not offended.
Both men smile at each other. The king walks over to a window and looks out of it.
Who is that in the courtyard?
I don't know, sire. From his clothes I would say he is a man from the village.
He is arguing with one of my counsellors.
Then I would say he is a man very much like the king.
HROTHGAR calling out
Counsellor! Who is that man you fight with?
1ST ADVISOR in the distance
No one, sire.
VILLAGER in the distance
I wish to speak with you, my lord.
What say you, poet? Do I let him in?
He has annoyed your counsellors greatly.
Then he is a fine man and I should. [Shouting out of the window.] Let him pass!
1ST ADVISOR in the distance
But, sire ...!
Let him pass!
The two men stand away from the window.
Men from the village, coming to see a king they don't believe in.
That is not true, sire.
You know it is, poet. You know that the villagers spend no time thinking of royalty. They struggle to find food to put in their babies' mouths, they do not sit around all day thinking of new ways to praise me or amuse themselves, as they do here.
It's true they have no time for kings.
And maybe they are better for it.
The Villager enters pursued by the Advisors.
We apologise for his physical appearance, sire.
And the fact that he smells.
Hold your tongue.
1ST ADVISOR to the Villager
Hold your tongue.
Not him! .... you! [The 1st Advisor is silenced.] What is the matter that you bring to me?
My lord, I come from the villages ...
1 ST ADVISOR quietly to 2nd Advisor Start
with the obvious.
Let him speak.
I have seen sights, my Lord, that no man should witness. I have lost a daughter. Men I know have lost wives, fathers, mothers. We sit quietly at night, not in peace but with the expectant dread of hearing the sound... A noise so terrible in all its aspects ... it comes in dead of night, cracking through the branches of the wood, breathing fire. Its hands are made of hardest iron; its caws are sharp as any blade forged by the finest blacksmith. He has killed my friends.... and every night he comes again.
Stop! Who comes? Who is this 'it'?
No man has seen him, my lord, and I'll vouch that all that have are no longer with us. But we have a name for him. We call him Grendel.
Is it man or mythological beast?
I don't know, sir.
2ND ADVISOR You haven't seen it and you don't know what it is. Are you sure it exists?
I have bodies piled by my gate and I have laid in wait and listened to the screams of others as it takes them and devours them.
1ST ADVISOR enjoying himself
Devours them? You are his food.
And soon all shall be, sir. A beast who can tear apart a forest will not stop at your high fences and drunken guards.
Our guards are not drunk.
Sample Pages from Production Notes
PRODUCTION NOTES + TECHNICAL CUES etc.
N.B. These notes are suggestions only. You may find them helpful to follow; or they may act as a springboard for your own ideas; or you can choose to ignore them entirely!
INTRODUCTION: THEMES, THE PLAY'S INTENTION.
Written in language that is reminiscent of olden times without being in the least bit inaccessible, the play is a lovely blend of humour and tragedy. There is comic by-play, often of a slapstick nature, between the Blacksmith and his ancient Grandfather and amongst the bored soldiery of Hrothgar's court Against this is the frightening story of the monster Grendel and his nightly forays on the surrounding villages and finally on Hrothgar's court itself. The play culminates with the coming of Beowulf, who kills the monster.
The play's intention is to show the reality and the futility of war; though the war is against a single creature, it is nonetheless devastating in its cost. The way it is done is to focus on the little family of the Blacksmith, who has a son who wants to be a soldier. The boy sees this as a noble vocation but his father, the Blacksmith, knows different, having lost his own soldier-father in war. Contrasted to the son's noble wish is the bored soldiery of Hrothgar's court who, without a war to fight, play dangerous games, gamble and get drunk. These soldiers are anything but noble and serve to back up the Blacksmith's argument against his son becoming one of them. The fact that the war, when it comes, is against a supernatural creature also backs the anti-fighting argument. The son joins up and is killed; he never had a chance against such a foe. Only a legendary figure, as is Beowulf, has a chance of prevailing; courage, fighting skill, even the tactics of cowardice have the same end in this uneven war - and that is death - futile deaths because no normal blow can cut down the creature; the son's courage is wasted.
POET - acts as the storyteller. He alternates between direct address to the audience, setting the scene or telling the tale and being a character in the play. He is Hrothgar's own poet, employed to record the deeds of his court and soldiery. As the storyteller his character is impartial though as a character he has a wry honesty that makes him a trustworthy character. We feel, because the boastfulness of the bored soldiers cuts no ice with him and because he has the respect and friendship of the dearly honest Hrothgar, that the story he tells is true. The speeches he has are often long and need to hold an audience's attention. Therefore a competent actor will be needed, who can handle the variety of paces required and the sometimes difficult words. The voice will need a good range and a sense of theatre and excitement.
BLACKSMITH - The main character in the story, he is a straight-forward and outspoken individual. His views are strong, especially with regards to war. He is hard on slackers - which include his own grandfather and son. A fiercely proud man and an extremely hard worker, his constant grumbling at the other members of his family cover up the very real love he has for them. It is protectiveness of his son that makes him unsympathetic to him. Once he has given in to his son's wish to be a soldier, something of his fire goes out of him. In a way, he has lost his own battle, just as later the son loses his against Grendel. Because we come to feel affection for this curmudgeonly individual, his grief at the end is more moving. All the character's movements need to be strong and definite; he is often angry and his voice is usually loud and blustery, which will emphasise the stuffing being knocked out of him when he can no longer prevent his son from joining the army - re the voice needs to be quiet, subdued and sincere and his whole body language slumped, in contrast to the vigour of his normal movements.
GRANDFATHER - delights in winding his grandson, the Blacksmith, up. He loves to talk and tell tall stories, especially about his own deeds in the past. Since he was a blacksmith too, this is usually to dig at the inadequacies of his own grandson. A lot of the comedy comes from this character so it must be handled well. His voice should not be too feeble and old, except when he plays on his age for sympathy. His movements must of course show his age but don't overdo it Most of the time, he sits and rocks in his chair, though he is also involved in some slapstick-style sequences. Though comical, he has sincere and serious moments, mainly when talking to his grandson the Blacksmith about the latter's father - his own son - who also died as a soldier - [in this way he mirrors exactly what the Blacksmith is going through and through his attitude, which is to accept the inevitable, he shows what the Blacksmith's attitude will also be, over time.] The transitions between comedy and seriousness will be hard to handle and need a competent actor.
SON - the character is never very defined. He is simply a young man who is fired up with enthusiasm about being a soldier, who gets his heart's desire and then dies fulfilling it. Though his death is tragic, there have been pointers to its inevitability and it is not dwelt on. Instead, the last word of the play is triumphant by implication. We are reminded that the son died doing what he wanted to do and that in Heaven, as the Grandfather suggests, he will be beating the evil Grendel - also now dead - again and again. The thought makes the Blacksmith smile and actually leaves us on a tranquil note. The Son early in the play is a clumsy tongue-tied individual. His body-language - slouched and reluctant - should contrast with later when he is working to fulfil his father's conditions and earn the right to become a soldier. Here his movements should be sharper, definite, his body straight, his walk faster, his face glowing and head held proudly. Even his speech should glow, excitably.
SOLDIER - a small speaking part, but a source of much slapstick comedy. He fights with Unferth when we first see him, when he comes over as confident and strong. Then he is wounded and carried to the Blacksmith's house for treatment. From here on he does not speak but has things - like his wound being cauterised by the Blacksmith's poker - to which he must react. He eventually passes out and must show an ability to be completely floppy and relaxed - not easy - as his body is manipulated round the stage. He spends quite some time completely still, sitting up on the floor flopped over like a dummy, which will require considerable concentration and patience.
UNFERTH - is the official 'hero' of Hrothgar's court. He is a bullying, loud-mouthed, boastful coward - as it turns out. He is in the play to show the difference between bravery in peacetime and bravery in war. It is easy to be brave when there is no real danger but when put to the test, Unferth fails dismally and becomes a pathetic despicable character in the end. Even at the beginning, the so-called hero is an unpleasant character. He is lacking in courtesy and 'grace'. He should be acted with an unpleasant, over-emphasised sneering upper-class voice. His nose is in the air, chest stuck out and he swaggers rather than walking. He can use extravagant and perhaps rather foppish mannerisms. He is patronising to the Blacksmith and allows his men to wreak havoc in the smithy. He is clearly supposed to be typical of what can happen to an army that is not in use - if left in the wrong hands. Under Unferth and his like, the army has lost discipline and all respect for others. Their punishment is Grendel and they do not deserve to win. But because of their bad management innocent people - the villagers; the Son - also suffer, and that is not right. Beowulf and his disciplined band of mercenaries - who have kept their battle-wits sharp by moving around from one troubled spot to another, honing their skills, and who are always courteous, are shown at the end as a strong contrast to the home army. Beowulf, the real hero, is an obvious antithesis to Unferth. In the second half of the play, Unferth's body language and manner has changed from his early swagger to a shrunken, self-effacing sort of skulk. His voice loses its punch and becomes querulous and complaining.
1ST SOLDIER and 2ND SOLDIERS - the two soldiers are typical' examples of the lower ranks in this rotten army. They are aping their leaders, who have given them a bad example. Therefore they are brawling, drunken bullies. The way they threaten the poet in the first scene we see these characters paints the picture. The next event is their lack of care of one of their own who is wounded. The scene in the Smithy emphasises this. They do not care or know anything about their comrade-in-arms. They should be played as loudmouthed bullies who are none too bright. Their movements are confident when with a crowd of other soldiers, but when in the Smithy on their own, their manner is less confident. They shuffle a bit awkwardly; they don't hold their heads so high; they look to each other - eye-contact - for support. Their voices are less sure.
HROTHGAR - the king. A likeable character. A pacifist who is aware of his shortcomings as a king - he cannot protect his people from Grendel - because he is merely a man. Justifiably angry when lied to and flattered by his advisors, his greatest friend and confidant is the poet. His mannerisms should be regal without being pompous; the play focuses on him as a human being rather than as a king. His anger is a feature of his charmer, but it is born of frustration. His body language should be upright and strong, except when alone with the poet when he is far more informal. Perhaps he could sprawl in his throne, for instance, at these times when at others he would sit upright in it.
1ST ADVISOR - a flattering deceitful courtier, obsequious in his voice and body language. Petty, too - such as when he enjoys picking holes in the villager's story. Much bowing and hand-rubbing. Concentrate on contrasting with the 2nd. The comedy of their playing will be better for it.
2ND ADVISOR - marginally better than his colleague. In the first scene we see them in he is the honest one, who tells Hrothgar the truth. His voice should therefore be blunter and less extreme. But later, he is united with his colleague in his mockery of the villager. The writing of this character isn't very consistent, so give it consistency by making out that the man is an out-and-out snob, which is what motivates him in the latter scene. Keep his voice as a contrast to the 1st Advisor, with a dry cynicism in all he says - that way his 'honesty' in the initial scene comes out more as irony. The two actors playing these parts could make play of some rivalry between the two - the first one fussy and over- gesticulating, bobbing about to keep the king's attention on him, the second in contrast, deeper voice, stiller, spikier in general - perhaps showing irritation at the 1st's effusiveness.
VILLAGER - a small part, largely factual. He needs to look in awe of his surroundings and the king - though he conquers his fear, because the news he has to tell is more fearful still. Perhaps he holds a felt hat in his hands, which he has whipped off his head in the presence of the king and which he now wrings nervously. As the scene progresses and he suffers the mocking of the advisors, his fear is overcome and he becomes braver and more defiant. His body language will straighten and his voice gather strength. He needs to talk with a thick country accent.
WATCHMAN - a small part, his role is to build up hope and expectation in the audience about the arrival of Beowulf. His manner is excited and triumphant. This needs to be strongly done, to build up a buzz of hope amongst the court and audience alike. Mannersims wide, sweeping arm gestures, fast paced voice and body language.
BEOWULF - a small but very important part. Beowulf has little to say but needs to move and speak like the hero he is. It would help if he is played by someone who looks athletic and strong.
LOOKOUT - once again, a very small part, but with an important speech that builds up to the arrival of Grendel and the battle between monster and Beowulf. The Lookout is nervous and on edge, but confident of Beowulf, his master. The speech needs to strike the balance between these two states. The nervousness is important because the battle - which has largely to be imagined - must not seem an easy one even for Beowulf to win and the Lookout's role is to underline that fact. When speaking to Beowulf, before the speech, the trust and adoration in his eyes and manner must be evident.
These are the speaking roles, but there are also many non-speaking ones - soldiers at Hrothgar's court and more soldiers accompanying Beowulf.
The play moves between the smithy, the court and a variety of outside venues, so must be simple and adaptable. It could be done very nicely as a kind of promenade, moving between two permanent settings set up in two different parts of your school hall, with another neutral area for such as the Watchman and the final scene by the bon's grave. If this idea were used, the settings could be done in a far more detailed way and would benefit from that However, having dropped that idea in to take seed with some of you, I shall now give ideas for a more traditional stage set-up.
Towards the back of the stage, in a fairly central position, side-on, place a large heavy looking wooden table. This must be strong enough to take the weight of people standing on it. Very dark wood suggests an ancient setting. Set behind this, a raised platform on which is the king's throne - an intricately wrought dark wooden chair with carved arms if possible. There needs to be enough space between throne and the front of the platform for soldiers to sit at the table, using the edge of the platform as their seating. To suggest the anglo-saxon period, the walls and side flats can be hung with gleaming weaponry and drapes of dark 'fur', whilst behind the throne could be hung an ornate shield. White or light-coloured fur could be draped over the throne seat. The shield might need to be removed in order to make much of shadow play in the final battle with Grendel.
Because of the need for fearsome shadows, make sure that the back is a white cyclorama, set with enough space behind for backlighting to make shadows - or a large canvas screen.
On one side of the stage needs to stand a large 'metal' fumace, black, with doors in the front that open and dose. Set inside the doors are fire-effect lighting which must be bright enough and flickering to spill out through the doors and illuminate the Blacksmith's face when he opens it up. A large proportion of the fumace could be unseen off-stage, so long as the front part is visible. The anvil is placed near to the fumace, on that side of the stage. Various tools - a bellows, large hammer and so on - are leaning against the side near the mace, or against the anvil. On the other side, near the front is the Grandfather's rocking-chair, made of lighter wood than the throne and table.
The lighting can be arranged so that the platform with the throne is in shadow when we are in the smithy, though the table can double as a table in the smithy itself. There needs to be a large open space in the centre and front which can be either Hall or Forge - or any neutral area, depending on lighting for help in identifying the spaces.
The floor could be painted to look like large slabs of uneven stone.
PAGE 2, opening. Have furnace doors open from the start.
PAGE 29 In blackout before the look-out's speech, remove shield or wall decoration for shadow-play.