Canterbury Tales, Wessex Actors on tour

The-MillerTHE Geoffrey Chaucer Canterbury Tales-telling contest is heading for a field or a theatre near you between now and 26th July.

It’s a sort of local Britain’s Got Talent, in which the participants work together to produce a version of the medieval stories that’s accessible to modern audiences, and the winner is chosen by the volume of the applause.

Chaucer (1343 to 1400) is hailed as the father of English literature and the premier poet of the Middle Ages, but his work can be a tad difficult in the reading – unless you are brave enough to do it out loud, as an inspired teacher taught me.

In 1974 Phil Woods and Michael Bogdanov adapted some of the favourite stories, creating a show that allowed the audience to decide in which order they should be performed by drawing names from a hat, and always ending with the “banned” Miller’s Tale.

It retained its popularity over 40 years, capturing all the bawdy spectacle of the original, and letting the actors show off their versatility as they perform a host of characters in double-quick time.

And that mucky Miller tells his top ten blue jokes to cover the scene changes.

It’s the perfect touring show for Wessex Actors, who this year are performing partly outside and partly in theatres – the best of both worlds for audiences.

On Sunday at the Swans Rugby Club ground in Ware­ham, the show delighted a select group huddled from the blustery wind and including a wonderfully well behaved tiny dog.

Warmed up by songs of the period sung by John of Y’Strels, the audience was ready for the stories of the Reeve, the Wife of Bath, The Nun’s Priest, the Knight, the Franklyn, the Pardoner and of course that irrepressible Miller – he who tells the story of Alison and her flatulent appearance at the window.

They are moral tales all, full of human foible and foolishness and warnings of the dire consequences of tempting fate.

Fox-In-The-RunThe colourful company includes Wessex regulars Scott Sullivan, Toby Trimby, Pamela Brewer, Marie Bushell and Paul Mole, with impressive newcomers Matthew Ellison (all the way from Eastleigh and you might have encountered him doing IT training) and Sean Beaumont.

My favourite moments were Scott Sullivan’s old lady and the Trimby/ Beaumont university student double act, as well as the extraordinary vocal variety and dexterity of that Miller. There is so much fun and laughter in Jo Puttick’s simple and inventive production, and every performance will change according to the setting and the audience.

There are seven more venues – three alfresco and four indoors. Take your picnic and enjoy the fun.


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