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Home arrow Archive: EdFringe 2013 arrow Chaucer: Hold Up Your Tale
Chaucer: Hold Up Your Tale
Published on Thursday, 08 August 2013

3 stars

C venues - C nova (venue website)
6-10 Aug, 12:05pm-12:55pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Family-friendly. Suitable for all ages.

Here’s something to warm the cockles of any Fringe-lover’s heart: a show in a basement, filled with music and song, where the set consists of a giant book and the performers don horses’ heads halfway through. It’s the Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey, but not as we know it – as N10 Productions remix some of Chaucer’s greatest hits into an all-new narrative, built around a family coming to terms with tragedy and learning the healing power of love.

But hang on.  Surely the whole point of the Canterbury Tales is that the pilgrimage throws different classes of society together?  It’s the one time in their lives when the knight will talk to the clerk, or to that notorious miller.  If you’re going to replace such a famous back-story with a different one, then I think you have to have a very good reason – and N10 Productions’ less-than-radical substitution of some middle-class mediaevals didn’t quite cut it for me.

The family story also took time away from Chaucer’s tales themselves, each of which felt slightly rushed in the set-up.  In short, I wasn’t too keen on the storytelling: it borrowed the key points of the Canterbury Tales but reduced them too far for my liking, extracting over-simplified messages which linked, only tenuously, to the surrounding plot.

But the day is saved, quite triumphantly so, by the performances themselves.  The Franklin’s Tale is a physical piece, accompanied by a haunting song and the driving beat of a drum; this was a treat for the ears as well as the eyes, and I’m delighted to report that the actors in question really can sing.  The Pardoner’s Tale was perhaps the weakest, with masked figures never quite conjuring up any particular sense of portent or mystery – but it was still an energetic romp through a plot which, of all the tales chosen, has the most obvious moral to share.

For me the highlight was The Knight’s Tale, which saw the actors don those wire-frame horses’ heads to enact the battle scene.  What happens next is really rather wonderful, and I won’t spoil the surprise; but it’s on the boundary between acting and puppetry, and it left me quite entranced.  Once again, the tale’s messages are starkly abridged, but they’ve found a visually-striking way to bring out its essence.  It has a kind of artistic elegance that Fringe theatre often aspires to but very rarely achieves.

With so many different styles on display, I must admit to a slight suspicion that N10 Productions have prioritised showcasing their talents above actually telling the tales.  But they are talented, and this is an enjoyable show, which – one brief but incongruous sex scene aside – has the potential to appeal to any age.  Purists won’t like it; but as a spray of Fringe sparkle for the middle of your day, it holds up well for me.

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