The Pantaloons are playing at the Gulbenkian on Friday 16th November
“Back by popular demand after a hugely successful open-air tour in 2011, The Pantaloons’ unique version of The Canterbury Tales is hitting the road again in November 2012*. And now it’s better than ever.
In a theatrical first, a cast of just five actors present every single one of Geoffrey Chaucer’s timeless tales in under two hours. Come and join the pilgrims for puppetry and poetry, music and magic, talking chickens and burnt bottoms. Fast-paced, physical and funny, this performance is in modern English and suitable for the whole family.
With no rain to worry about we expect these extra special indoor performances to sell out fast. So don’t delay; book some madcap medieval mayhem today!
To visit the Canterbury Tales attraction in the centre of Canterbury is to travel from a London inn to Canterbury Cathedral in the space of an hour, as you follow in the footsteps of Chaucer’s band of pilgrims.
Situated entirely within the confines of the former St Margaret’s Church in the heart of the city, the tour takes visitors through a series of individual rooms, each staging a tableau depicting either a stage in the pilgrimage, or one of five of Chaucer’s famous tales, with life-size mannequins and authentic sound-effects and smells working to bring each story to life. An audio guide (separate ones for adults and children) narrates your way through the stories, and introduces some of the characters and scenes encountered on the way. Effective lighting and automated props whirr and bustle to life as you enter a room, whether a medieval inn complete with comatose patrons, a leafy glade, an entry into the walled city, or a visit to the Crypt and the site of Becket’s martyrdom.
The experience is an immersive one; from the outset, you are plunged into the murky world of the Tabard Inn and its crackling fireplace, where the voice of Harry Bailey greets you and warns you of the perils that lie ahead on the arduous journey to Canterbury. Clever lighting also serves to illuminate different characters and features in rooms as the accompanying tale unfolds. From flickering candles, starlight, illuminated windows and an array of sound effects, you finally emerge from visiting the Crypt into the light of day with some surprise.
A family ticket (two adults and two children) costs twenty-five pounds which, for a visit which lasts well short of an hour, might be more attractively priced at twenty. And here is the main issue with the visit: shepherded through the individual rooms by the audio guide, which cues the automatic opening of doors into the next room, there isn’t time to explore each room and the characters and scenes in each. This is a real shame, as the wealth of detail packed into each room is extraordinary; from the stables packed with pilgrims and animals preparing for the journey to the crypt’s frescoes and paintings, there is a rich profusion of detail which we would have liked more time to explore with the children, the chance to really bring out the features of medieval life on display. But one has to move on when prompted by the audio guide as the doors ahead open, otherwise the narration gets out of sync, and there is scant opportunity to revel in the details in the realisations.
Apart from this, however, the visit was a terrific success with our children, who came out and immediately wanted to go round again! They enjoyed the animated effects – the emergent behinds of Nicholas and Alison in the Miller’s Tale as they were poked through the window in particular was greeted with great delight. The audio narration is an effective guide, and includes some famous voices taking part; I’m sure I heard Bernard Cribbins… There’s the opportunity for children to dress up in period costume before they go in; parents should be mindful that, when the tour finishes and we are invited to go out ‘into the market-place’ that what is really meant is ‘marketing-place,’ and you are herded straight into the inevitable gift shop…! Be strong.
With over twenty stories, not including the General Prologue, it would seem nigh-on impossible to cram nearly all of the Canterbury Tales into a mere two hours. Yet with breathtaking scope, dazzling virtuosity and some serious multi-tasking, that is exactly what The Pantaloons have done with their production of Chaucer’s mighty epic.
Playing last night to a large and enthusiastic crowd gathered at Mount Ephraim Gardens, the company display a chameleon-like quality, with a mere six players each changing character in the blink of an eye to bring all the characters in the Tales alive. With such a small company, there’s no respite either; when not acting, then they’re usually providing some musical accompaniment to the action – guitar, clarinet, bass clarinet, melodica, recorder, accordion, including quotes from Mission: Impossible, all make an appearance, and all the cast sing, bursting out into with arias, duets and even barbershop when you least expect it.
Before the play begins, the cast provide musical entertainment or wander amongst the audience in character to welcome them, harangue late-comers, or peddle their medieval wares of dubious quality (not, of course, including the programmes!).
There’s a real sense, too, of warmth emanating from the players towards the audience, which is reciprocated in equal measure. The players have fun with the audience, involving them – there’s a moment or two of audience participation, including turning them into an Angry Mob complete with fist-waving as well. The play is peppered with the occasional nod to contemporary culture too, in knowingly anachronistic asides which add to the fun.
What impresses the most, however, is the sheer variety with which the Tales are realised. There’s riotous action, but there’s also puppetry, limericks, rap, improvised comedy, and a tale-in-thirty-seconds as well; the puppet-show realisation is narrated whilst faceless puppets act out the tale, and is in places equally funny and beautifully moving. The Miller’s Tale, with its famous poker-and-posterior moment, is a lively romp; the Reeve’s Tale, with its nocturnal mistaken bed-hopping, brings the bedroom-farce alive with terrific humour; in contrast, the Second Nun’s Tale becomes a lightning-quick opera packed with famous musical references including the ‘Flower Duet’ from Lakme and more, delivered with real musicality.
The play works for both adults and children alike, with Chaucer’s famous vulgarity handled with delightful aplomb. Ranging from farce to ribald humour, romance and slapstick, the rich variety of Chaucer’s social commentary as he pokes fun at social class, mocks religion, greed and lust, is all presented in a vibrant, dynamic production that keeps its tongue firmly in its cheek throughout.
It’s a very physical production, with the hard-working players climbing in and out of the window, dashing around the stage, mock-brawls, moving in and out of the audience, and generally seeming to fill three times as much space as the set would seem to allow.
The play finishes with improvised comedy, as the Squire finally gets to tell his Tale by taking ideas from the audience and making up a tale on the spot, in song, accompanying himself on the guitar whilst the rest of the players act out his impromptu tale.
The company tours extensively throughout the year – check out their diary on-line and don’t miss the opportunity to see them if they turn up at a venue near you: you won’t be disappointed. Their tale is done: God save all the rout!
Sunday 28 August at 7pm & Bank Holiday Monday 29 August at 5pm – The Pantaloons Theatre Company bring Chaucer’s pilgrims to life in this brand new adaptation of the medieval classic with a contemporary twist. Expect music, laughter and tears as the pilgrims tell their tales of deception and redemption, magic and majesty, life and death. Oh, and talking chickens. Before the show, audiences can enjoy the ‘Medieval Marketplace’ as the pilgrims attempt to sell their wares and create an authentic Chaucerian atmosphere. Dress for the British summer and bring something to sit on!
Tickets available from Mount Ephraim ticket office and the Woodrose Tea Rooms or view www.thepantaloons.co.uk for more information