BTR - Reviews of The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales

Fri 2nd – Sat 17th August 2013

reviews

Helena Blackstone

at 10:11 on 9th Aug 2013

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Think Chaucer. Think 600-page middle English text. Think again with Andrew Ainscough’s updated version for the stage, which recognises the tales as the ripe ground that they are for physical humour and bawdry. This group have condensed the entire of the pilgrims’ journey into one hour of song and storytelling by focussing on the characters and the outer frame narrative; it is these characters that come to life, rather than those in the stories they tell. This was very much an ensemble production, centred around a storytelling method which worked, and allowed for stronger performances to hold together what could otherwise have felt a little amateurish in places.

Each character in turn takes on the central role of storyteller, and as they do so they turn the other characters into puppets who act out their tale, moved around the stage as if by words alone. This was a charming storytelling method and to boot the actors looked like they were genuinely enjoying themselves, and this enjoyment rubbed off on the audience. Particularly convincing and lively performances came from Matt Simpson as the Miller, Alex Varey as the knight and Katie Gledhill as the drunken Cook, who did well to avoid the traps of poor drunk acting. She was likeably light-hearted and her slapstick was amusing and unforced – even as she came close to obliviously battering her entire fellow cast with various kitchen utensils.

The addition of song was a great complement to both the warm and the lewd elements of the production, but the talents of the group could have been better harnessed. Lisa Coleman’s voice is very fine, and I would have wished to hear more of it and louder, above the others in the group songs. Having been entertained by the warmth and physical wit of several of the characters, I felt that the shadow puppetry was somewhat less exciting and so felt a little gratuitous; it is hard to feel engaged in characters when they are represented to you by three lightly jiggling spoons, limited in their ability to supply any emotion or even to mimic actions.

I would have enjoyed a slightly more varied way of portraying the knight’s macho-ness than his repeatedly asserting himself with the word ‘fuck’. If you’re going to swear, do it with more gusto and variation. In fact, everything could have been more in a show which has the seeds to be truly entertaining. More energy, more lewd jokes, more physicality and this show has potential to be greatly improved.

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Patty McCabe

at 10:20 on 9th Aug 2013

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"Tell me have you ever heard a tale" that will "chill your bones and flatten your ale" begins ‘The Canterbury Tales’. Andy Ainscough’s script loses the Middle English, preserving the charm and perception of one of the most famous set of tales in the English language, presenting them in an accessible format that exploited almost every method of story-telling from song to shadow puppetry.

TheSpace on the North Bridge was the perfect intimate setting, mimicking the tavern-style storytelling of the production. Although at times the 12-strong cast swamped the stage making focus a little difficult, the sheer strength of the characterisation and easily-identifiable costumes prevented the production from slipping into a sprawl of bodies. The most interesting feature of this production was its wide range of storytelling methods. Along with more traditional elements such as song, Matthew Bosely’s direction incorporated physical theatre, shadow puppetry, and dance to great effect.

Luke Leahy’s Geoffrey Chaucer framed the narrative with poetry, although lacked the romp and audacity of the rest of cast. The authorial interventions were unnecessary, taking attention from the rest of the cast who were strong enough to carry their tales as well as the framing narrative. The Miller’s tale, told by Matt Simpson, was full of entertaining, pub banter to match the tavern-style story that, with a few exceptions, suited the raucous pilgrims on their arduous journey.

The Prioress (Lisa Coleman) provided the perfect contrast to the drunken antics of the Miller and the Cook (Katie Gledhill). Coupled with a delicate voice and an innocent appearance, her song sounded like something you would hear at a Christian camp. Everyone’s favourite whore, the Wife of Bath (Alex Reindrop) was out in full force, throwing herself at every male pilgrim in the group with her skirt gradually disappearing. Her cringing-inducing licentious behaviour was convincing and Reindrop provided one of the strongest performances of the show.

A little overwhelming at times (after all 12 characters and 4 methods of storytelling is a lot to squeeze into 50 minutes) the colourful and lively set of pilgrims wove all the elements together fairly successfully, even if there were a few loose threads. Still, Lancaster Offshoot’s production was highly original and entertaining in its endeavour to bring a tale of tales to the stage.

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Comments

J R; 9th Aug 2013; 11:43:06

The Pilgrims may have been lost on their way to Canterbury but the cast certainly knew where they were going. An excellent, witty, quick-paced, dip in and out of some of Chaucers famous characters and their stories with some brilliant original music throughout. The actors ability to really immerse the audience in their 'Tales' was superb and genuinely enthralling. Particularly enjoyed the shadow puppets in the pardoners tale! Really enjoyed this play, I would highly recommend this to anyone considering buying tickets.

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