The Canterbury Tales

You remember The Canterbury Tales don’t you? A group of pilgrims meet in a Southwark tavern, all on pilgrimage to Canterbury, and agree to pass the time by telling each other stories. Director Harriet Bradley adapted Nevil Coghill’s modern translation of Chaucer in 2007 and has brought it to the Fringe for the first time, direct from its Oxford University debut. This production clearly means well. There are no pretensions here and there’s certainly no need to have heard these stories before. The actors tell their tales with confidence, occasionally deadpanning pantomime jokes that are doubly funny for their incongruity. Tom Garner’s Miller is amusing, using his drunkenness to break the fourth wall and antagonise the other characters; something Linda Davies’ Reeve is delighted to respond to. And Michael Quirke is excellent in Madam Eglantine’s tale, strutting around the stage as a hilariously vain cockerel. On the other hand, Sam Lysons natural acting style seems to be nervous and boyish, something which doesn’t suit his roles as a knight and courtly lover. And Laura Goude’s Wife of Bath is so restrained that she loses what has made the Wife the most enduring of Chaucer’s characters.It’s the simple things that let this production down. Some of the vocal projection is poor. Despite sitting in the second row of a small venue, I still had to strain to catch some of the lines. There are frequently two scenes happening at once, one of which is important, the other merely blocking, but this is distracting rather than entertaining. Many of the panto jokes are thrown away or muttered by the characters meaning we don’t hear them or they aren’t as funny as they could be. And unfortunately the energy and speed of the night I saw weren’t high enough to carry the production.As an old English Literature student, I certainly enjoyed seeing these old friends come to life. But part of the problem with modernising Chaucer and putting him on stage is that you have to adapt the material accordingly. Tabard Productions clearly have a lot of respect for their source but without thinking seriously about how that style of humour translates into the 21st Century and how best to stage it, this production leaves you feeling that its full potential has not been fulfilled.

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Performances

The Blurb

Seven pilgrims unite in Southwark and 'shorten their way' with tales of swyving, adventure and some very naughty chickens. Join Geoff Chaucer and fellowship in this critically-acclaimed stage adaptation, and make your way ... to Canterbury!

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