The Frome to Canterbury Tales

FROME Drama is celebrating its 75th anniversary, and of course the talented and versatile members wanted a “big show” to mark the occasion.

The pandemic gave member, writer and director Gill Morrell an unexpected opportunity for research, and she turned to Chaucer’s classic Canterbury Tales for inspiration, giving them a Frome twist. She then presented the committee with her updated version, and  they jumped at the chance.

Now the Frome to Canterbury Tales has taken to the large stage of the Merlin Theatre, and it’s a triumph. Set in the early 1950s, the local pub, The George Inn,  has advertised a magical mystery tour, and 12 locals have signed up, ready to join Gwen Host and Geoff Chaucer the coach driver on a trip into the unknown. In the Morrellian version, each character has the name of one of Chaucer’s pilgrims as a surname. Every night, at a new and undisclosed campsite, they tell their stories – which haven’t dated since the time the man they call “the father of English Literature” first culled them, between 1387 and 1400. The more it changes, the more it stays the same!

The company was lucky to have the multi-talented Laurence Parnell, who not only played guitar and composed and sang original songs, but, as the bus driver, also contributed his own tales – he was particularly memorable as the devil.

Every member of the cast created her or his own strong character as the evening unfolded and the audience got more and more involved in the back stories of these post-war pilgrims. It’s an ensemble piece and there wasn’t a weak link as Sandra Gaisford (Gwen Host) rounded up her band of trippers and headed east from Frome. Phoebe Fung (Brenda Shipman) told the first story, getting the show off to a flying start, Scarlett Hayler-King (Agnes Pardoner) managed everything from prissy evangelist to lusty wench, Serena Dunlop used her powerful singing voice and her charismatic talents to full effect as Diana Friar, and Rebecca Richardson was a memorable Alison Bath.

Both Darren Thorpe (Basil Merchant) and Napoleon (Eric Summoner) captured the wide boy bravado of the 50s, and Paul Batson and Rosie Allerhand had their own hardships to overcome as Oswald and Rose Reeve.  David Dunn was the perfect Percy Miller.  The cast was completed by Mark Whitwood and Harry Harman as Col Knight and his son Harry, and Noelle Grierson as Freda Monk.

It’s an inventive and enjoyable show, crammed full of ideas and gusto, played on a great set that makes the most of the Merlin’s potential.


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