THE CANTERBURY TALES
by Geoffrey Chaucer new version by Mike Poulton.
Northern Broadsides Tour to 12 June 2010.
Runs 2hr 55min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 9 June at York Theatre Royal.
Rough and ready on the surface, finely-planned at base.
Shorn of 15 minutes and one actor (an injury), Northern Broadsides ended its long Canterbury pilgrimage in York. It’s a rough-and-tumble piece, where apparent disorganisation is actually carefully co-ordinated, so everyone ends up, apparently accidentally, in the right place just on cue.
Mike Poulton’s version – seen in two-part glory at the Royal Shakespeare Company – is well-worth another look at what, for many people, will be a more manageable length. It needs an ensemble feel to make it work; it’s vital the energy is maintained between tales, and that the production’s many moments of theatrical trickery and cheek are incorporated into the stories’ onward flow.
That’s just the kind of style Northern Broadsides has bred in its productions, and it serves well here. Poulton’s own tricks remain: Alan McMahon’s wiry, unaware Monk attempts to tell a tediously high-flown tale no-one wants to here, being repeatedly frustrated till the interval, leaving the travellers zombie-like when we return. Chaucer himself’s a reticent civil-servant, the master-narrator on paper whose own eventual story is spoken with a comic lumpy ineptness.
Elsewhere, all is fun, from the light manner taken with the long, serious Knight’s Tale and the Clerk’s Tale of Patient Griselda. It’s just as well; these stories, especially Griselda’s, hardly fit the modern mood if there’s time to consider, or seek to understand the characters.
No such problems when ensemble activity turns to the likes of The Miller’s Tale, or The Merchant’s, both sharing a delight not simply in bawdy physicality but in sexual trickery. Among the ensemble it’s impossible to ignore such comically-flavoured performances as McMahon’s Monk, eager to tell his Tale, his braod smile fading each time he’s passed-over, or Ishia Bennison’s sturdy, and not at all mockable Wife of Bath.
Director Conrad Nelson’s other major contribution is music that alternately evokes and smooches jazzily against the idea of medieval England, while in its final candle-held chorus it recreates the splendour of 14th-century church music. And there’s a delightful energy when both the travelling and the violence of The Pardoner’s Tale are expressed through the lively rhythms of Broadsides’ trademark clog-dancing.
Wife of Bath: Ishia Bennison.
Nun: Emily Butterfield.
Squire: Matt Connor.
Host: Phil Corbitt.
Prioress: Laura Cox.
Chaucer: Andy Cryer.
Cook: Michael Hugo.
Nun: Rosie Jenkins.
Clerk of Oxenford: Guy Lewis.
Monk: Alan McMahon.
Tavern Boy: David Newman.
Reeve: Rob Pickavance.
Miller: Matthew Rixon.
Knight: Neil Salvage.
Yeoman: Richard Standing.
Pardoner: Andrew Whitehead.
Director/Composer: Conrad nelson.
Designer: Lis Evans.
Lighting: Richard G Jones.
Puppeteer: Lee Threadgold.
Movement: Matthew Bugg.
Assistant director: Andy Cryer.