Due to the fact they lived such different lives to our own, it is perilously easy to dismiss our medieval cousins as having absolutely nothing in common with modern Britons. The stock image of austere fanatics flagellating themselves and butchering their heretical neighbours has been so ingrained in our historical bloodstream that it has survived relatively unscathed across the centuries. Of course our ancestors liked to make sex jokes and get drunk just as much as we do - a fact bawdily conveyed by this new adaptation of The Canterbury Tales.

The range of personalities on the stage at once immediately puts paid to the old assumption that medieval society could be neatly divided into a tiny minority of nobles and a seething mass of anonymous peasants. From the sleazy pardoner who makes a living selling dubious religious relics to the monk who found God after assaulting his wife, the whole vivid canvas of 14th century life is on display here.

This is quite an achievement considering the Lancaster Offshoots had an hour to not only introduce all these characters but also give them enough time to tell their respective tales. The cast cleverly hint at the personalities of the pilgrims by their mannerisms and reception by other characters, allowing the audience to fill in the gaps. This prevented the number of people on stage from becoming overwhelming while still allowing for a significant amount of subtlety. Even when a character wasn't directly involved in the action, they were still full of energy - playing chess or drinking ale - bestowing the show with a gruff, dynamic quality.

The rowdy chatter of the pilgrims was occasionally halted by out-of-scene commentary from Geoffrey Chaucer himself. Dressed in a suave modern suit and delivering his lines in rhyming couplets, Chaucer remained deliberately aloof from the vulgar banter of the other pilgrims. With everything else going on, his interludes provided a welcome change of pace.

The excellent acting and lusty storytelling ensure that this version of The Canterbury Tales lives up to the high standards set by Chaucer's masterpiece. Go along and you might be surprised at how little we've changed from the 14th century. Don't worry - there's not a hint of flagellation in sight.

Reviews by Andrea Valentino

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Performances

The Blurb

An engaging and vivid new dramatisation of Chaucer’s legendary masterpiece. Preserving its original human warmth, join the raucous band of pilgrims as they perform their tales in a hilarious and moving spectacle. '... sublime student theatre’ (Stage).

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