Ancient myths like Iceland’s Sagas continue to be told in their countries of origin because the themes are so timeless. In Hero, an Icelandic one man-show playing this summer in tourist-friendly West Iceland, Kari Vidarsson puts a modern spin on the Saga of Bardur Snaefellsas.
Haven’t heard of him? No worries, this summer for the first time, the play will be performed in English. This is great news because Kari’s interpretation of the Snaefellsas saga is a wild joy ride of cultural insight, delivered with poignancy and humor.
Kari takes on the personality of a dozen characters who are part of the story of Snaefellsas, an ancient Nordic super hero who is greater than the sum of his parts; which if you want to know is fifty percent human, twenty-five percent each troll and giant.
After some messy business avenging the presumed bullying-death of his daughter by iceberg stranding, (Hey, its Iceland!) Snaefellsas retreats to the famous glacier that presides over West Iceland. What follows is a hilarious telling of a 700 year old story that could just as easily take place today, minus the trolls.
With a swift change of costume or voice, Kari assumes all the roles in the Saga and there are many; the loving and lustful Snaefellsas of course, his mother, father and tutor, his wife and daughter, his sons, foes and even the town’s society hostess.
In one of many scenes that had the audience in stitches, Kari gets aerobic playing all the guests at a Christmas party. He improvises on the fly throughout the show, turning to the audience at critical moments, dropping his pants and even abandoning us alone in the theater.
By pulling out all the stops, keeping us guessing at what would happen next, Kari demonstrates a remarkable range of talents without sliding into gratuitous exhibitionism. After the show, however, he explained showing off was exactly what he was trying to accomplish.
I’m using everything the theater has to offer, he told me. “I’m using the lights and I’m using the props and costumes and I’m using the puppetry.” French accents, pratfalls, juggling, the works, Kari said he was trying to create a living resume; an attempt to make a name for himself in Iceland as a just-returned graduate from a British theater school.
Like the two-faced mask that symbolizes drama, Hero is both tragedy and comedy. Laughing/crying is an apt symbol also for the way the play brings together ancient and contemporary stories and makes obscure Nordic folklore equally relevant and entertaining for Icelanders and visitors.
This summer, Kari is performing the play daily in English at the Frystiklefinn theater (Frystiklefinn means freezer in Icelandic) in Rif. It is an opportunity for the growing number of international visitors to enjoy local culture in a language they can understand.
Tourists come to this area to hike the glacier at the Snaefellsas National Park, so named for the legend that Snaefellsas still inhabits the place.
Contemporary guests are unlikely to glimpse Bardur Snaefellsas on their hikes through the mountains but that’s okay. Watching Kari’s Broadway-quality performance as the hero of this Icelandic Saga is more than good enough.
Hero shows daily at the Frystiklefinn Theatre in Rif, West Iceland.
I am a journalist, a published author, speaker and broadcaster specializing in aviation and travel.