Writer: Geoffrey Chaucer
Director/Adapter/Composer: Lewis Gibson
Reviewer: Chris Combemale
Is greed truly the root of all evil? Startlingly original and deliciously entertaining, Lewis Gibson’s children’s revival of Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale is a vibrant exploration into the conman Pardoner. With breath-taking live music, a magically empty stage and snow falling from the skies, this ingenious production of an old and weary tale gives theatre a sudden jerk back to its storytelling roots.
Not merely a children’s show, this is an inventive reinterpretation of an ancient classic; three people seeking to cheat death for wealth, whose greed ultimately leads them to destruction. At once wonderfully exciting yet hopelessly tragic, this tale of greed and envy is joined by the storytelling pardoner, bringer of forgiving pardons, guiding the audience through malevolent woods, daring deeds and sinister treachery.
Set in the expansive Unicorn Theatre, Gibson’s production is self-consciously theatrical – making no attempt to hide the bare stage or setting marks, instead playing up the ‘magic’ of this temple. Without meticulous set or extravagant costumes, actor Gary Lagden undoubtedly has his work cut out for him, confronted with the challenge of bringing to life a multifarious range of characters. Like a hero of old, Lagden rises to the occasion, whose comedic yet truthful approach to Chaucer’s creations left audience members young and old grinning from ear to ear.
Despite this, The Pardoner’s Tale feels slow to start, lacking in substance and depth, a meaningless flurry of entertaining lines before launching into the true story. If a production could be egotistical, it would be this, at times getting so confused in its own pantomime theatricality and Lagden’s multitude of asides that the essence of the story is abandoned.
However, musicians Christopher Preece and Hannah Marshall must not be forgotten, contributing as much to the performance as actor Lagden, crafting eccentrically atmospheric musical accompaniments. Extraordinarily resourceful, the audience is tantalised with eerie dulcimers, the crackling of crushed celery and the menacing growl of a wind machine. While this mostly augments Lagden’s performance, it feels overused and often a distraction from the main story rather than a subtle accompaniment.
In spite of some flaws, this is a magnificent children’s production at the Unicorn Theatre offering a deep and thorough exploration into Chaucer’s 700 year old tales. A delight for children and adults alike.
Runs until 31st January