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Posts Tagged ‘Chaucer’

Three years ago a stage adaptation of Zadie Smith’s debut novel White Teeth was part of the Kiln Theatre’s (re)opening season, now she’s written a new play for the same theatre based on Chaucer’s 600-year-old tale of the Wife of Bath. If this is as faithful to Chaucer as they suggest, he must be one of the most feminist and sexually explicit writers ever. Just a little bit of research supports the former, but suggests the latter is a contemporary interpretation.

When I walked into the Kiln auditorium I gasped. Robert Jones’ transformation from theatre to pub is one of the most extraordinary I’ve ever seen. A giant three-part bar the width of the auditorium and tables & chairs surrounded by benches replacing most of the stalls. Chaucer’s tale is being told in The Sir Colin Campbell today rather than the Tabard Inn 600 years ago. It’s written in verse with the author also a character, sometimes with her Mac at a bar table, introducing and concluding her piece. The barmaid is something of a Bett Lynch character, big hair and leopard print.

The Wife of Willesden, Alvina, is larger than life and loud, as fond of Baileys as she is of sex, five husbands and still counting. Her tale covers them all, as they come forward to play their part with all the other characters and a few symbolic ones, like St Peter and Jesus Christ. Her explicit description of sexual acts, comparing and contrasting husbands, might challenge the broadest of minds. She occasionally engages members of the audience, and bursts into song and dance randomly.

It starts like a ball of energy, and I was convinced I was in for a fun evening, but I’m afraid it wore off way before it concluded. It felt laboured and heavy-handed and certainly didn’t sustain its 100 unbroken minute length; I was bored rather than offended. Substance was replaced by crudity as it became a sex romp, an adult panto. Clare Perkins works very hard bringing Alvina to life, and the nine other actors playing 21 parts between them maintain energy and momentum way beyond the point at which I’d lost mine.

For me it showcased a lot of outstanding creative and performing talent, but on material that wasn’t really worthy of it.

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I’m finding it increasingly difficult to enjoy an evening at the Globe. Nothing to do with the shows, but a lot to do with the audience, who’s behaviour appears to have deteriorated more than elsewhere, partly because the venue seeks to replicate Shakespeare’s period. On Friday I had to contend with simultaneous translation to my left, a middle aged couple making out in front, food & drink noise and talking all around, mobile phones, incessant photography and stewards attempting to stop the photography and in doing so walking loudly on the wooden floors, making it worse! I like to immerse myself in a show; these distractions make that impossible. I’ve been there many many times in its twenty year history, but the forthcoming Othello may be my last visit.

Based on Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale, from the late 14th century Canterbury Tales, there now seems to be a consensus amongst scholars that this play was a collaboration between Shakespeare and John Fletcher, towards the end of his career. The two kinsmen, Arcite & Palamon, are very good friends, both nephews of a discredited king, who find themselves in the custody of King Theseus. They both fall for Theseus’ sister-in-law Emilia, which sets them on an adversarial course. The king imprisons Palamon and banishes Arcite, before deciding they should fight it out for Emilia’s hand, the loser and his followers to be killed. When Palamon was in jail, the jailer’s daughter fell for him and this provides a sub-plot as her love for him sends her insane.

Though I’ve seen it before, I hadn’t grasped the fact that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is happening offstage while this story is being told; very clever. Barry Rutter’s production has the earthiness that became the trademark of his company Northern Broadsides, with excellent costumes by Jessica Worrell and music by folkie Eliza Carthy (which I’m afraid I thought was all over the place). It’s boisterousness suits the Globe, with songs and dances to sweep it along. Bryan Dick and Paul Stocker are well paired as the kinsmen and there’s a trio of charismatic royals from Jude Akuwudike as Theseus, Mayo Akande as Hippolyta and Matt Henry as Pirithous. Ellora Torchia as Emilia and Francesca Mills as the jailer’s daughter both delight.

I just wish I could have enjoyed it more, but don’t let that stop you.

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