The Canterbury Tales - Review by Ann Lovelace

Fifteen years ago, as a fairly new volunteer, I made the journey all the way to Canterbury to see an early Orpheus production. It was a wonderful version of The Canterbury Tales. There were only a handful of students then (known as Apprentices.) I was impressed by the originality and energy of this enthusiastic group.  So I was intrigued and eager to come to this year’s end of year production of the same title.  To say I was not disappointed is an understatement.  I attended the Thursday evening performance and was completely bowled over by it.  Throughout, my overriding thought was, “If only this could be seen by a much wider audience!”

From the moment of entering The Barn, the audience was transported to another age. The spectacular sight that greeted us was a beautifully choreographed tableau of performers dressed authentically in medieval costume. Silent Nuns led us to our places on rustic benches and bales of hay. Simple period music heralded us in played gently on lute, tambourine, bell and guitar. We were welcomed by members of the production team taking on the parts of the four members of the Baily family, each of whom would be leading a group of us on a magical pilgrimage to different places to be entertained by student performers bringing tales to life.  We met the cheating Miller, the corrupt Pardoner, extortionate Summoner and the feminist Wife of Bath.  Other tales en route were told through a variety of art forms such as tapestry, installation, dance, song and film.  On this occasion, we were blessed with a beautiful warm evening so much of our pilgrimage took us around the grounds, which have never looked lovelier, enhancing the promenading, which was the aptly chosen  theatrical format for the show.  In all the presentations, the accent was on authenticity and contained much hilarious, bawdy comedy in keeping with Chaucer’s England.

Our journey ended back in the Barn where we were guided back to our places amid beautifully made models of houses depicting Canterbury. The actors then drew the evening to a close in words and song, summarising the  lessons learned from the tales.

Apart from providing such brilliant entertainment, the educational value of the project for the students must have been enormous. In addition to an increased knowledge of history, literature and music, they will have developed their creative skills alongside the importance of co-operation and discipline.

Behind the scenes, the amount of work by the dedicated teams of costume, prop and set design made a huge contribution to the show’s success. It was an atmospheric evening of surprise and enchantment.

Well done to everyone for this wonderful achievement!   

Ann Lovelace