Step into the Viking world circa 1,000AD via a thrilling musical odyssey that promises an epic journey through history, filled with sword fights, romance, Viking longships and mystical encounters with witches. Based on true events that altered the course of European history, Forkbeard: A Viking Musical Odyssey transcends mere historical lessons.
It is a story of two kings facing impossible odds, entangled in a poignant human drama marked by tears, laughter, love and faith, yet haunted by betrayal, greed, ambition and revenge. The spectacular set transports you to misty Scandinavian forests, where Odin, Freja and Thor rule.
Written by Nancy Jenster, directed by Karam Tabba and powered by a talented all-Malaysian cast, the unique theatre performance features stirring ballads, war chants and laments, all under the direction of an award-winning artistic team. Having wowed audiences in Dublin, London and Penang, this production promises a fast-moving script and an evocative original musical score.
“I’ve always loved everything Viking, from TV shows to video games. Did you know they were not as barbaric as history paints them to be? They were very particular about cleanliness and built ships far more advanced than other civilisations at the time,” posits Tabba, a Syrian national who has been living in Malaysia for the past decade. By day, he works as an IT project manager at FrogAsia, creating education software for kids across Malaysia. Come nightfall, he immerses himself in the world of performing arts.
Regarding the play’s storyline, he commends Jenster for crafting a brilliant narrative. “It is full of amazing music and fantastic story arcs building on characters that will hold your attention until the final curtain. My work was pretty much cut out for me. The story is based on historical writings of the Battle of Svolder, an event that set in motion changes in European powers that shaped the world as we know it today.”
The history behind this drama is interpreted in different ways by Danish, Norwegian and Swedish scholars. “Since there was no definitive claim to the ‘truth’ of what actually happened, nor even agreement as to where the battle actually occurred, I felt it was my artistic right to find a plausible plot line, to use what events I selected from the history books that could make Olav Trygvasson and Sweyn Forkbeard become more multi-dimensional people,” offers Jenster when asked about her challenges in weaving the diverse elements into a cohesive storyline.
The Icelandic sagas helped her to interpret some of the interesting romantic stories of the love between Trygvasson and Thyra, the younger sister of Forkbeard (Trygvasson’s old fighting comrade but now his mortal enemy), and Thyra’s anger over what Forkbeard allegedly did to end the reign of their father Bluetooth which drove her to seek revenge on her brother.
“I had to choose which story and subplot was more compelling, and over the many years of writing this musical, I had to drop out several of the [known and accurate] elements of the history in order to make the story easier for Malaysians and other non-Scandinavian audiences to follow. But each decision was carefully weighed.”
The sword fights are painstakingly choreographed as part of the climax of the story and the three witches, or Norns, are more like seers who unite the threads of the past, present and future.
“The Norns give an interpretation of their own as to which of the kings and queens deserved the intervention of Odin. It is a very spooky and provocative encounter that Queen Sigrid experiences at the Tree of the World and the magic Well of Weir, and it turns into a peculiar unexpected twist to my story,” explains Jenster, a transplanted American who has been married for 40 years and raised three children while living in many countries.
“I’ve only recently become a playwright, composer and producer. This is only the fourth original musical I have written and produced in Malaysia since retiring in 2013 from my 35-year-long career as an executive leadership development consultant and university professor,” shares the world traveller, expat nomad and polyglot who always sees stories from multiple cross-cultural angles.
Through her company, MYTH (Musical Youth Theatre Happening) Productions, she strives to deliver “musicals with a message” that speak to the challenges and triumphs of modern life. These stories are designed to connect with parents and teenagers, especially in the culturally diverse settings of Penang (where she lives) and Kuala Lumpur.
Nicholas Alphonso Pereira plays Forkbeard and he has always been a fan of Viking lore and mythology. “This truly is a role that I feel blessed to play. I’ve been watching many documentaries, reading multiple books and attempting to look the part as much as I can physically. Mostly, just ensuring I do the role justice for the production, my amazing cast members and for all audience members.”
One of the more prominent traits of Forkbeard is that he is a man of great conviction and is willing to die for his beliefs. “That’s a rarity in today’s society, where thoughts and ideas shift and change so rapidly that one is more often than not left confused and lost and easily manipulated to fit in or succumb to the status quo. It’s refreshing to play a character who is steadfast and assured of who he is, and genuinely willing to pay the price for what he believes in.”
The nature of a musical requires the cast members to dance, sing and act. Leading lady Kirsten Long, who assumes the role of Sigrid, admits this is no easy feat and is certain to be a challenging yet eye-opening experience. “Being cast in a production where we have to transport back to the year 1,000AD, truly forced us to openly discuss how we need to do so in this modern setting. Consistent communication between cast and crew is of the essence in building camaraderie and kinship for the success of any show.
Adapting Viking attire for Malaysia’s climate was a challenge but the props team found the right fabrics to ensure both authenticity and comfort. They also made lightweight yet sturdy Viking shields and weapons for dynamic stage combat. Meanwhile, the set design draws inspiration from Yggdrasil, the famous Viking tree of life, and Norwegian villages. “There are other moving sets that we’re keeping under wraps to surprise our audience,” beams Tabba.
There are 24 original songs crafted specifically for this musical to drive the narrative. Each line in the script and lyrics serves a purpose. The music’s meticulous composition, complete with meaningful key changes, is elevated by Vincenzo de Leon’s extraordinary orchestral arrangements, Dominic Luke’s music direction and Lee Han’s live accompaniment.
Even though it is a show about Vikings, it is just as relevant today as it was back then. “We witness how greed and power are driving nations apart, leading to the loss of countless lives. In the end, what victory is there in being the winning side when the cost of it all is far worse than the outcome?” asks Tabba matter-of-factly.
'Forkbeard: A Viking Musical Odyssey', presented by MYTH Productions, will run on Oct 27 @ 8pm, Oct 28 @ 3pm / 8pm and Oct 29 @ 3pm at klpac, Sentul Park, Jalan Strachan, off Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah, Kuala Lumpur. Tickets at RM120 / RM89 can be purchased here.
This article first appeared on Oct 23, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.