The Canterbury Tales Remixed

This production modernises the art of Chaucerian storytelling to make accessible the humour and bawdiness of The Canterbury Tales. Using rap, music, visual projection and frequent reference to pop culture, Baba Brinkman retells a selection of Chaucer’s stories, with Mr Simmonds on the decks.

Walks the line between the utterly hilarious and the awkwardly cringeworthy

The show walks the line between the utterly hilarious and the awkwardly cringeworthy. Brinkman wonderfully satirises celebrity culture to great comic effect, but hearing the characters of The Pardoner’s Tale referred to as “gangster” and “badass” feels overly contrived. Similarly, the use of projected images in the background is sometimes successful in adding to the humour (particularly where celebrities’ heads are collaged onto characters’ bodies) but at others the use of mediocre cartoons limits rather than expands the world Brinkman’s words depict.

Between raps, Brinkman talks about storytelling, comparing his renditions of the tales with how they would have originally been told; credit to him for an impressive Middle English accent. His talks are erudite and engaging, particularly when he discusses the use of anachronism to make the stories accessible.

However, Brinkman has set himself an impossible task. Chaucer’s storytelling was cutting edge popular entertainment for its time, and this production can’t shock and delight a modern audience in the same manner, because seven-hundred years of more shocking, more bawdy literature has been written since the days of Chaucer. This is not to say that Chaucer’s work cannot still be enjoyed today – this show is proof to the contrary – but that the only way to really evoke the same audience response as Chaucer would have received is to be using new material as well.

This is a humorous – if at points cringeworthy – production, which can be enjoyed regardless of whether you’ve got a copy of The Canterbury Tales on your bookshelf or not. Brinkman’s goal of trying to evoke a sense of Chaucerian storytelling is, however, unachievable, despite the clever homage to Chaucer’s self-referentiality on which he ends.

Reviews by Megan Dalton

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Performances

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The Blurb

Chaucer’s classic tales as you’ve never seen them before, with sparkling wordplay, live turntablism, and seriously medieval swagger. Comedic hip-hop storytelling fresh from New York's Soho Playhouse, with music by Mr Simmonds, written and performed by Fringe First Award Winner Baba Brinkman (The Rap Guide to Evolution, 2009). What happens when Eminem meets the Wife of Bath? Hilarity ensues. ‘Delightful’ (New York Times). ‘Truly awe-inspiring’ ***** (Scotsman). ‘Warm, funny, and fascinating throughout’ ***** (Chortle.co.uk). ‘Genius... staggeringly clever’ ***** (ThreeWeeks).

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