Geoffrey Chaucer is a tricky writer to read, let alone convey in a coherent dramatic narrative. The densely archaic language, the context of long forgotten rituals and outdated customs, not to mention the lack of easily accessible mirth in many of his comic tales, present a real challenge for an acting group to convey The Canterbury Tales in a manner which fully engages and entertains the audience. Unfortunately, this retelling of a selection of Chaucer’s tales did not quite succeed in the task, the meaning remaining as opaque as a pint of darkest Edinburgh Deuchars.
Running Torch Theatre Company presented three tales: The Man of Law, The Pardoner and The Franklin’s Tale. The multitudes of characters are represented by the troupe of 15 young actors donning hats and shawls of varied provenance in order to illustrate role changes. While the actual implementation of this device was slick and well rehearsed, the energy and focus remaining high throughout each scene, character and tale changes, I was dubious as to how effective the actual device was. Some of the more eccentric costumes, such as an Austin Powers-style pink and orange floral blazer, and a furry Cossack hat, had no connection to Chaucer’s characters and proved more of a distracting than a means of helpful differentiation.The modern touch ran throughout the show, which may explain why the ensemble launched into a spontaneous rendition of Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) during one of the tales.
Save a few exceptions, the actors seemed unsure of how to deliver their lines, reciting the archaic language with a lack of confidence that often hindered understanding of already convoluted storylines. Some of the broad comedy in The Canterbury Tales was conveyed successfully through broad caricaturing and slapstick, though overall the production oscillated between the extremes of serious morality fable and farce with an overall lack of conviction in either.
A cheerful and energetic attempt, though one which unfortunately tripped too often on the minefield that is Middle English literature.