Friday, 21 December 2012

The Canterbury Tales - review

Written by: Andrew Crane (@AndrewRCrane)

Southwark Playhouse, London


If you’re looking to immerse yourself in a 14th century pub complete with live folk music and the fantastically told folk tales to match, then Tacit Theatre’s production of The Canterbury Tales might just be the play for you. Now in the last leg of its tour at Southwark Playhouse, this production of Chaucer’s short stories is performed with such abundant character and charm, even those with an aversion to older theatre will be well and truly entertained.

From entering the auditorium the audience are immersed in the 14th century world of the ‘Tabbard Inn’. Four of the cast members are playing energetic folk music with an array of instruments including an accordion, lute, violin and guitars; the tightness with each other and remarkable harmonisation was completely natural and relaxed, displaying an impressive musical talent from all of the cast members.  The two cast members not in the folk band greeted audience members as they entered, and chatted to those already in their seats. I was lucky enough to be given a personal poem by the Landlord (John Canmore) as I sat down, ever so slightly uncomfortable, but Canmore’s likeability and enthusiasm overshadowed this, so for the audience members and myself who were fortunate enough, these interactions were highly effective in immersing us.

The overall design for this piece is enormously inviting, orange light glows through the smoke hinting at a comforting fire, and coupled with a set consisting of wooden barrels and assorted furniture dotted around a bar that can only be described as ‘ye olde’, the result is a wonderfully warming atmosphere. The stories are interspersed with some rousing folk musical numbers thoroughly cementing the lively pub atmosphere, and impressively all sound effects are created live with inventive use of the instruments. The cast are incredible in remaining completely slick throughout, even whilst bounding around the fictional pub; this is a production with some very talented individuals and the chemistry between them is a joy to watch.

The stories themselves were highly entertaining, ranging from the raunchy and immoral to the more moral and fable-esque. The company seemed strongest and provoked the best audience reactions from the raunchier stories of the collection; their portrayal of fornication (although a little clichéd) was nothing short of hysterical, with cross-gender characters and an incredible pair of fabric breasts, they really do delight in the bawdy.  Although the more moral tales are very well performed and entirely enjoyable, in comparison to the raunchier stories they lack energy. Unfortunately these tales are grouped in the second half of the piece so after the interval the energy did drop, still very compelling, just not quite as entertaining as the first half.

Despite the imbalance between halves, Tacit Theatre manage to pull off a wonderfully fresh production of a Chaucer’s 14th century tales; in their hands his work has aged like a fine wine instead of feeling old and gone off. The humour hits, the music uplifts, and the stories engross; this telling of The Canterbury Tales is an excellent piece of immersive theatre.

This production runs until 22 December 2012.

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