Theatre Review: Icelandic Sagas – The Greatest Hits in 75 Minutes

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An evening filled with killings, puffins, and American football.

Written in the 13th and 14th centuries, the Sagas continue to influence Icelandic culture. A remarkable body of literature, written in a style which is akin to modern fiction. They document the colonization of Iceland. Recounting the formation of the nation’s legal system and early quarrels over land division, the Sagas are set against a backdrop of Viking expansion across Western Europe. Accounts of feuds and killings are told with great artistry.

Still relevant for modern readers, they are the inspiration for George Martin’s Game of Thrones and J.R.R.Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Tolkien was so enraptured with the Sagas he learnt Old Norse to read the original texts.

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Bringing 40 Sagas to the stage is a new production at the Harpa Conference Hall, Reykjavik. It’s an ambitious undertaking, condensing one of the most significant literary works of the medieval era and making it appeal to an audience possibly unaware of the Saga’s literary and cultural significance.

With a cast of only two actors, the play’s breakneck speed barely gives the audience time to draw for breath as it tosses in pop-culture references and some wild and wacky jokes.

Not quite the next best thing to actually reading the Sagas, the play follows the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s template and is packed with enough cringeworthy jokes to keep the audience giggling for days. A hilarious introduction to the colourful world of Saga-era characters Gunnlaugur Serpent Tongue and Mjoll the-biggest-of-all-women-who-were-not-giants.

Ticket booking information.

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