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Review by Jade Gadd.
If you’ve enjoyed Chaucer’s work before then you’ll know what to expect, but for those of you who are new to this writer here’s a brief catch-up:
For all that society would have us believe that modern entertainment is far more rude than past forms of entertainment, Chaucer is here to tell us that this is a total misconception. Think Monty Python meets Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Chaucer uses pilgrims to represent different parts of society using his own brand of bawdy comedy and clever rhyming. Needless to say, this is NOT a family show. I’d suggest 13 at the youngest as there are a lot of quite explicit sexual elements and strong language; I’m not altogether certain that, at 65, my grandma was quite old enough to see it, but I guess she knows it all now; it’s not worth pretending it didn’t happen…
Onto the Gala and the particular version of The Canterbury Tales that the Gala has produced! In my personal opinion, it was better than any big budget adaption could have been because it felt very special to be one of the members of the audience watching a Durham student cast. Yes, maybe it wasn’t perfect, but wouldn’t it be a shame if it was? Chaucer’s story isn’t made of perfect people or perfect tales, so it seems only fitting that it is performed with Wabi-Sabi embracing imperfections. I am very pleased, however, that although the story remained authentic in many ways to the original, we didn’t have to combat the smell of human waste, and rather than pushing and shoving to get a good view, we were all comfortably seated in the Gala Theatre (as always, a lovely venue for all ages and abilities).
The Gala’s adaption was, above anything, highly creative. Every time I thought the cast had done everything possible with a part of the set, like a swiss army knife it opened up a new use. Props were hidden within other props and actors were used for multiple roles to create a beautiful flow to the whole show. We enjoyed seeing each new costume and prop, which must have taken an immense amount of time to plan and make.
My one criticism would be that some actors were extremely quiet and so it made the story, already in Old English, hard to hear and understand; but to that I say we need to support our local theatres as much as possible so that the actors can be mic-ed up.
As I mentioned earlier, the Gala is awesome! The staff are always helpful, the prices are decent and there are brilliant facilities for when you are waiting to go in to a performance or showing. I particularly like that they allow drinks and snacks from the bar into the theatre and don’t bat an eyelid if you sneak some popcorn in. The Gala is one of the most wheelchair- and pushchair-accessible buildings I’ve ever come across and that’s saying something.
I really enjoyed lots of the tales, but my favourite elements had to be ‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’, with its Benny Hill style chase scene, ‘The Prioress’s Tale’, which is absolutely beautiful and acts as reverse comic relief, bringing the audience back down to Earth for a little while between the fits of laughter from the other tales. Lastly, I really enjoyed the narration; it made the whole show feel like a really good book, with Chaucer speaking to the audience in his familiar style, not unlike Dickens in A Christmas Carol.
For all the overall show was absolutely hilarious and made even the grumpy guy in the corner squeal with laughter, I doubt there were many dry eyes left in the packed theatre by the end as The Canterbury Tales put across its point and was deeply moving.