The Canterbury Tales

There are three things which are undeniably British: Geoffrey Chaucer, trains and casual drinking. Combine the three and you’ve got an entertaining piece of student theatre with an upper lip so stiff you could chisel a bust of the Queen with it. In this new adaptation, directed by Alex Thomas and Polly Tisdale, the train to Canterbury has ground to a halt, forcing them to tell anecdotes from their lives to pass the time in the cramped train cart. Some are funny, some are tinged with sadness, but none of them fail to amuse.

An entertaining piece of student theatre with an upper lip so stiff you could chisel a bust of the Queen with it.

There are some outstanding stories here - the Miller’s tale in particular was presented and acted beautifully. There were also some surprisingly funny comic turns and unexpected gags, all of which were helped by some displays of great character acting. I wouldn’t have been surprised to have seen it done by performers with twice the age and experience of the Magdalen College School performers; the vigour with which some of the students approached their roles was clear. The strongest performance was from Chaucer himself, who maintained such an air of blissful bemusement throughout that it was easy to believe him the omnipotent writer. However, it’s also very clear that this production has flaws. Many of the scene changes, despite the musical fanfare, felt flat and a little awkward. Some lines felt as if they were simply being read aloud rather than acted which appeared to be from lack of confidence rather than a lack of skill. Whilst the energy for character portrayal was constant, the show’s overall energy ebbed and flowed; more than once there was a strange lull in the action which dragged the entire scene down. It is at these times that it becomes very obvious that this is a student production.

Overall, while it feels as if large swathes lacked polish, this is nevertheless a good show. If you’re looking for an interesting new take on Chaucer, or enjoy seeing a good lampooning of British sensibilities, give this show a try. 

Reviews by J W Close

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The Blurb

Thrusting medieval frivolity into the 21st century, join us as we stage new versions of Chaucer’s famously tall tales. Who will reign supreme as our characters try to outdo each other with wit, brags and gags?