The Canterbury Tales

Geoffrey Chaucer, adapted for the stage by Tom Daplin
Tacit Theatre
Southwark Playhouse
(2011)

After a slow start, this heart-warming adaptation of seven Canterbury Tales under the direction of Juliane von Sivers wins over a receptive audience.

The creative team works hard to be inclusive. The performance is delivered in the round (plus a bit of above and below) with a medieval bar at one end of the space dispensing ale and pungent mulled wine (but little else) throughout the 1¾ hours.

The opening is deliberately confusing, as John Canmore playing Harry Bailey leads us into Chaucer's world using the original language. Soon enough he reverts to something more modern, though throughout reminds his audience of the tales' historic origins in a bravura feat of memory, speaking Chaucerian English as if it was contemporary.

The Knight's Tale, which opens the evening, is a convoluted story of chivalry and competitive love that rather drags. However once they move on, this highly adaptable ensemble has many tricks up its combined sleeves.

Each sings lustily and plays one or more musical instruments. This allows the company to deliver a stream of rousing drinking songs with gusto.

These interleave the Chaucerian tales, most of which are agreeably bawdy, none more so than the risqué comedy of The Miller and his unfaithful wife, Alison. Other highlights include the cast becoming chickens in the light-hearted Nun's Priest's Tale and the joyless variety of The Wife of Bath's Tale, which has Shakespearean overtones.

Most of these stories might well be familiar having practically taken on the aura of folktales, but thanks to the enthusiasm of a strong group of actors, they seem fresh and effortlessly hold the attention.

Every single one of the performers in this excellent ensemble has their moment of glory, with Ellie Moore who plays the violin as well as she acts, Rosalind Blessed and Harry Napier particularly catching the eye.

Inevitably, Tacit Theatre does not have the resources of the RSC, who were the last company to present an adaptation of Chaucer in London. Even so, while some of the storytelling could benefit from greater clarity, the overall experience is highly enjoyable.

This production therefore meets what should be the primary requirement of any adaptation from literature in that it leaves visitors interested enough in the subject matter to go back to the original.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher