BWW Reviews: THE CANTERBURY TALES, Southwark Playhouse, December 12 2011

"Sex and drugs and rock and roll
Is all my brain and body need
Sex and drugs and rock and roll
Are very good indeed."

Ian Dury and the Blockheads 1977, but it could just as easily have been Geoffrey Chaucer and the Pilgrims 1377, something Tom Daplyn acknowledges in his faithful adapting of The Canterbury Tales into modern English and Juliane Von Sivers underlines by directing his dramatisation in a tavern. For that is what Southwark Playhouse's Main Stage has become for the duration of the run - there's a bar serving very decent ales and wine throughout and conversations breaking out here and there between cast and audience, as each story unfolds.

That's the drugs - albeit alcohol only in these mercifully smoke-free days- the rock and roll is more folky, but no less rousing for that. The cast belt out standards like The Wild Rover and Maggie May, led by Theone Rashleigh's dizzying array of guitars, lutes and banjos accompanied by a good old singalong and foot stomping from the audience. There's a fruity old ditty or two amongst the musical interludes which leads us to the... Sex, which is at the heart of many of the tales, whether the Wife of Bath's lesson in gender politics or the Miller's account of how lust can leave a nasty taste in the mouth. 

In narrating and acting out six of the Tales, the cast are fighting one minute, then singing, then carousing, then killing, then kissing and they do all those things and more with the joyous celebration of human fallibility that courses through all the stories. John Canmore as publican Harry Bailey is our host and keeps everything bubbling along with a winning charm and indulgence in the carnivalesque, Ellie Moore is coquettishly flirtatious in the Miller's Tale and brutally heartless in delivering her own Tale as Summoner. But this is an authentically ensemble production, with all seven cast members fully committed to the immersive approach, all on "stage" for almost two hours.

Southwark Playhouse has chalked up another innovative and entertaining evening by travelling just a mile in distance (for the original Tabard Inn was less than a mile from its current re-imagining) but over seven hundred years in time. By modernising the language without compromising the stories, though if you haven't done A level English, another excellent programme from this venue is highly recommended for its synopsis of the Tales and pen portraits of the characters. As we spill on to the streets at drinking-up time, we reflect that Tacit Theatre's production has revealed, as if we really needed to be told, that humanity hasn't changed much when it comes to the sex, the drugs and the rock and roll.

The Canterbury Tales is at Southwark Playhouse until 7 January 2012.



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From This Author Gary Naylor

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