>THE CANTERBURY TALES by The Stage Club

>reviewed by marcus tan

>date: 22 feb 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: the jubilee hall
>rating: ***1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

                           
>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.
 

>>>>>corny canterbury

In the light of recent theatrical trends that attempt to (farcically) engage postmodern narrative forms and issues, especially those by modern experimental theatre companies, it is certainly a most refreshing experience to attend a performance that did not try too hard to engage the cerebral labyrinth but served, unabashedly, to amuse and entertain. After all, drama, divested from its didactic purposes (and existential angst!), serves primarily to entertain.

The Stage Club's THE CANTERBURY TALES is a re-staging of the popular sell-out show first premiered in 1996. Directed by an ensemble which included Jim Hill, Phil McConnell, Denise Marsh, Nick Perry and Barry Woolhead, the dramatisation of Chaucer's 'The Canterbury Tales' saw an interesting (and comical) adaptation and transformation of medieval literature's best known work.

The somewhat extended performance (of two-half hours) included six of Chaucer's best known tales. Invited to pause from their pilgrimage travels to sermonize on "moralite" and "communitas," pervasive themes that underlie 'The Canterbury Tales', the tale-tellers included the Knight, Pardoner, Miller, Reeve, Nun's Priest and the ever-popular Wife of Bath.

While the performance managed to rock the house incessantly with bouts of laughter through its interesting adaptation of these most lewd and bacchanalian of tales, capturing in the most hilarious manner, the intrinsic bawdy and boorish nature of 'The Canterbury Tales', what is most noteworthy is The Stage Club's re-scripting of the middle-English text into a contemporary narrative. The opening sequence of the performance presents a Chaucer look-alike as he attempts to relate his tales in a most archaic tongue but is readily deposed by the central narrator, played by Barry Woolhead, who overturns the middle-English idiom into a modern one.

>>'The Stage Club's THE CANTERBURY TALES is for those who enjoy earthy humour and a good story'

As the programme forewarns, this "Chaucer on stage is not for purists - nor is it for puritans." The spouting of iambic tetrametred lines ending in familiar rhyming couplets but delivered via modern English creates an appealing yet discomforting sense of the poetic and the ludic/vulgar all at once. This dramatic strategy, perhaps with no other intention than to make Chaucer more accessible and appealing to a contemporary audience, brings into confrontation the quaint and the new. The use of (what seems like) medieval costumes interjected by modern social references such as the use of modern day tabloid papers (in 'The Pardoner's Tale') and McDonald's packaged meals engenders a liminal (schizophrenic) space that reinvestigates temporality on the stage. The role of the pilgrim-narrator (possibly Chaucer himself) is now replaced by a familiar pair of TV game show hosts - Pat Saijeck and Vanna White (in this case, its Fenny White). The spinning of the wheel to determine which tale will be told next becomes a tool by which to incorporate a contemporary audience into an archaic and distant English tome, via their participation, hence meta-dramatically transforming the audience into fellow pilgrim-travellers.

Such interactions of performance texts create a highly confrontational mise en scene that brings together the ancient and the modern, the familiar and the alien, giving Chaucer's tale new meaning and accessibility.

By visualising and dramatising what is essentially a textual narrative, The Stage Club managed to show how 'high-literature' can be composed of the most banal of subject matter. This being said, much of the essence of every tale and its social and moral concerns were often drowned in boisterous laughter. In addition, the meta-narrative of the pilgrim tale-tellers, which incidentally constitutes its own tale in 'The Canterbury Tales', was a notable absence in this production. Although considered as "digressions" (as stated in the programme), the essentialities of conflict between and the personalities of the pilgrim tale-tellers, in Chaucer's text, constitute a meta-dimension for understanding the tales they tell for they influence the ways in which we receive their lessons. Such is the case with 'The Pardoner's Tale', whose narrator - the Pardoner - has always been regarded as a sinister devil reincarnate and whose tale becomes doubly ironic and disbelieving as such. This aspect was certainly missing in the production.

Coming full circle, as much as these concerns are valid, they have, as stated in the programme, been deliberately ommited "to concentrate on those aspects of the tales which can be presented most readily through dialogue and action." Ultimately, The Stage Club's THE CANTERBURY TALES is for those who enjoy earthy humour and a good story and in that respect, it was certainly a most entertaining and refreshing performance.