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The Canterbury Tales (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: The Canterbury Tales

Society: Studio at New Wimbledon Theatre

Venue: Studio at New Wimbledon Theatre

Credits: By Geoffrey Chaucer. Presented by Half Cut Theatre.

The Canterbury Tales

4 stars

Photo: Harry Elleston

This company has come a long way in a short time since I first saw them in a Cambridgeshire field in a distanced performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2020.

Their four hander take on The Canterbury Tales which I didn’t see in winter 2020 is cheerful and richly funny. It gives us modern versions of the characters (James Camp’s Pardoner has morphed, rather wonderfully, into an estuary speaking estate agent and Georgia Leila Stoller’s Miller is the slimiest womaniser you’ve ever met) and updates on the tales which are acted out. The host becomes a pub owner named Geoff who might, just might, write some of these stories down and Hollie-Anne Price is a flirty Alison Bath who knows a thing or two about men.

The stories are whacky but affectionate and in an odd way manage to strike a happy balance between respect and irreverence. The teenage students from Harris Academy, South Wimbledon, sitting behind me. were amazed when I told them that, yes, Chaucer’s very bawdy 14th century The Miller’s Tale really does give us Nicholas sticking his bottom out of the window … and worse. Here it’s make-you-gasp hilarious but OK for a family audience.

As we progress along the A2 towards Canterbury (which always sounds funny to modern audiences but of course that was more or less the old pilgrim route) we meet Chanticleer – cue for much stage business with inflated yellow rubber gloves and a running gag with an audience member Harry, a maths teacher who turns out (at opening night) to be rather good value. We also get a hammed up tale of chivalry based on the Wife of Bath’s Tale and a much more.

There’s a lot of actor musicianship in this jolly show with all four actors contributing on instruments. Stoller is a fine (left handed) guitarist. Her instrument is azure blue and she sings with lyricism and oodles of character. And it’s fun when a piano keyboard, which Price then plays, emerges from the bar as an integral part of Hazel McIntosh’s set.   There’s a good song based on the opening lines of Chaucer’s prologue and the four of them sing rather well in harmony: some good work, evidently, by Eden Tredwell, composer and musical director.

Those Year girls 9 I was chatting to knew nothing about Chaucer and his famous tales. They are, they told me “drama scholars” and were simply taking the show at face value as a piece of theatre. And that works too.

Half Cut Theatre, which now has some Arts Council funding,  has a big tour scheduled with this show (Essex, Suffolk. Surrey, Sussex, Hants, Wilts, Berks, Worcestershire, Northants, Bucks, Herts, Bedfordshshire, Cambs, Oxfordshire, London) until 07 April. Catch it if you can. Take your children as well as your Granny. You will all laugh a lot.


Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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