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The Pardonerís Tale
Published on Monday, 13 May 2013

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4 stars

The Warren (venue website)
10, 31 May, 7:45pm-8:45pm; 11-12 May, 1-2 Jun, 4:00pm-5:00pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Warning: Contains strong language.
 Parental Guidance. Under-17's must be accompanied by an adult.

So, you know the Pardoner’s Tale? The one from the Canterbury Tales, with the weird old man and the treasure chest and the three blokes who go off to find Death hiding under a tree? No, I didn’t either. But it doesn’t matter: this rumbustious, fun-loving performance faithfully fills in the essentials of the story, without ever letting it get in the way of a gleeful romp through an entertainingly modernised version of Chaucer’s England.

The Pardoner’s Tale follows three young men, “who made a habit of folly such as debauchery, gambling, brothels, and taverns” – follies familiar to anyone who’s ever ventured out in Brighton on a Friday night.  Andy Currums, Hadleigh Harrison and Wayne Hughes bring a child-like playfulness to their roles, with mime, horseplay and high-energy antics neatly capturing the immaturity which leads them to believe they can conquer Death.  At times it gets a tiny bit Carry On Canterbury, and they need to work more on performing towards all three sides of their cramped venue at the Burrow.  But the style is fast and funny, and lends an additional bite to Chaucer’s coldly inevitable conclusion.

I felt a few of the physical sequences outstayed their welcome, and some of the wilful anachronisms grated more than they entertained.  (It’s all in the context, I think; a light-sabre fight in a mediaeval tavern felt woefully out of place, whereas a Monty Python pastiche during a dream sequence got an enthusiastic thumbs-up from me.)  More significantly, there was one essential plot point – that a particular chest contained gold – which entirely passed me by, leading to a few minutes of puzzlement before the context became clear.  But that was the exception: in general they did a great job of communicating the essence of Chaucer’s storyline.

The credit for that’s largely due to two very selfless cast members, who sat on the sidelines for the majority of the play but delivered all the most important lines.  Greg Harradine, performing as a minstrel – albeit a minstrel playing catchy riffs on an electric guitar – has a fine clear voice, and his sung narrative helped me focus on concepts which could have proved difficult to the modern mind.  Meanwhile Tanju Duncan, as the eponymous pardoner, was a thrillingly eerie figure, all pale skin and piercing eyes and beckoning finger.  I’d have liked to hear more from Duncan; the pardoner was a quietening counterpoint to the three adventurers, who helped stop their wilder antics from running out of control.

On which subject, I must raise a slightly quizzical eyebrow at the decision to have the three cavorting young men wearing rough brown tunics, plain black belts… and women’s high-heeled boots.  I heard afterwards that it was calling back to mediaeval theatre, when female roles were always played by male actors, but that doesn’t completely make sense.  The characters in Chaucer’s Pardoner’s Tale are very definitely men.  I didn’t feel the device added much to the storytelling but, then, I didn’t feel it subtracted anything either – so I guess I’ll just shrug indulgently and let the boys be boys.

I was going to sign off with some highbrow musing on making Chaucer relevant to a modern generation, but, bah, you can think too hard about this kind of thing.  When all’s said and done, I laughed a lot, tapped my toes a bit, and ended up knowing a Canterbury Tale.  What’s not to like?  If you’re taking the kids, note that it’s a little bit saucy for its 4pm time-slot – but apart from that, dive into the Burrow and have some fun.

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