THE PARDONER’S TALE
based on Geoffrey Chaucer adapted by Lewis Gibson.
Unicorn Theatre 147 Tooley Street SE1 2HZ To 31 January 2014.
10.30am 21, 23, 24, 28-31 Jan.
11am 25 Jan.
1.30pm 21-23, 28-30 Jan.
2pm 25, 26 Jan.
7pm 22 Jan.
Relaxed Performance: 11am 25 Jan, 28 Jan 10.30am.
Runs 1hr No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7645 0560.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 January.
An atmospheric and characterful telling that need ask no forgiveness.
Among the fictional pilgrims who define late 14th-century society in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales The Pardoner was a scoundrel and a vicious one. He traded on fear and today might well be dealing in fake cancer cures or payday loans.
Fittingly he emerges, as Lewis Gibson’s accomplished if complex piece for 7+ opens, from the dark rear of the Unicorn stage, processing with two musician-companions, chanting a sinister-sounding Latin malediction – like a medieval vision from a particularly gloomy old Scandinavian film.
For the Pardoner plays on the sense of guilt and impending damnation to prise loose the money in people’s purses. Regular player with Tangere Arts (who bring this piece to the Unicorn) Gary Lagden soon introduces a more approachable side when he moves from singing Latin to speaking English, inducing audience members to admit likings which can be categorised under a Deadly Sin, for which he hands out individually named parchment pardons. Like most certificates of no value they look seriously impressive.
Lagden provides comic-edged seriousness as he describes a Pardoner’s work. He then goes on (and it might be thought over the heads of young spectators) to admit the tricks by which he manipulates and cheats people, continuing the theme from his character to the way theatre works. Helped by theatre technology and his musical companions he shows how audiences can be persuaded it’s day, night or whatever he wants us to believe.
The difference between deliberately creating falsehood or using pretence to reach towards truth is a complex matter, which isn’t pursued here, although the age range is acknowledged with a discreet veil being left over one of the Deadly Sins.
Such matters explored, the grim moral tale of Chaucer’s Pardoner is colourfully enacted, Christopher Preece and Hannah Marshall effortlessly combine music and sounds, with Lagden physically and vocally definite in outline and strong in detail – no simple task in this story of three villainous friends tricked by Death, through their greed, into dispatching each other. Which, as Chaucer knew and Gibson’s script explains, is a sin on which the Pardoner, and his modern descendents, thrive.
The Pardoner: Gary Lagden.
Musicians: Christopher Preece, Hannah Marshall.
Director/Composer: Lewis Gibson.
Designer: Rebecca Hirst.
Lighting: Ben Pacey.