THE travellers of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales have taken a slight detour on their pilgrimage to visit the Botanical Gardens this weekend. Pantaloons open-air theatre company are back at the venue where they have previously toured Taming of the Shrew in 2009, Romeo and Juliet in 2010 and last year’s Much Ado About Nothing and Macbeth.
The switch from Shakespeare is an ambitious one for in what may be a theatrical first, The Pantaloons are performing every single one of the 23 completed Canterbury Tales which requires a cast of just six actors to play around 70 characters. And just to add a degree of difficulty, The Pantaloons will present every story in a different theatrical style. Audiences can expect pantomime, puppetry, masks, musicals, mime, farce, reality television, horror, opera and Shakespeare is not forgotten.
Complete with medieval market beforehand, the audience can interact with the characters, buy their wares and even have a kiss off the Wife of Bath!
The play follows a group of pilgrims who decide to hold a story-telling contest on the road from Southwark to the shrine of St Thomas Beckett in Canterbury. The pilgrims are from all walks of medieval life and include a Knight, a Miller, a Monk, a Prioress, a Shipman and a rather insatiable Wife of Bath. Their stories are just as diverse, including old favourites such as ‘boy meets girl’, ‘talking chicken meets fox’ and ‘red-hot poker meets naked bottom’...
Chaucer’s journey was from London to Canterbury but The Pantaloons’ pilgrimage is taking them to outdoor venues all over the country, from Truro to Durham and everywhere in between.
The Middle English of Chaucer’s text has been newly translated into vibrant modern language.
Mark Hayward, co-producer and co-author, explains the translating: “It’s all about being faithful to the original text whilst making it relevant to a modern audience. It’s a tricky line to walk but as we were translating we realised that the key things were to keep it accessible and keep it funny.”
“There are several tales that are like mini-plays in themselves,” says Hayward. “Famous ones like The Miller’s Tale and The Wife of Bath’s Tale deserve a proper showing. Other stories have been condensed into sketches, songs or even limericks. Many of the lesser-known tales would be rather unpalatable to a modern audience without a good pinch of irony!”
Performances at the Botanical Gardens are on Friday and Saturday.