Right of Reply: The people's tale

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The Independent Culture
James Tillitt, the producer of Michael Bogdanov's adaptation of The Canterbury Tales, dismisses charges that it's nothing but schoolboy smut:

'We were actually quite pleased by the reviews we received, although there were a couple who obviously disliked the production but had some very nice things to say about Brian Glover, the Miller.

It is very easy to criticise the production for failing to explore the poetical lyricism and the social commentaries of The Canterbury Tales, but that is not what we set out to do. The show is there to encourage people to see Chaucer not as the boring A-level set text they remember from school, but as an enjoyable piece of literature.

That said, we haven't changed the plots of the stories to any great degree, but we have put them into modern rhyming couplets and set the piece in the framework of a Geoffrey Chaucer story-telling competition as part of a village fete. It would be wrong to say that the tales selected are only there for their rude bits. We tell six of the tales: the Reeve's and the Miller's Tales are two of the best known bawdy ones, but we haven't told the Merchant's Tale, which is ruder than the Miller's Tale, or indeed the very rude Summoner's Tale. The production also includes the Pardoner's Tale, a story of corruption, greed and dishonesty, and the Franklin's Tale, which is a beautiful story about love, honour and fidelity. There is definitely a balance.

I wouldn't deny that the script we use might be improved for the more scholarly of our audience, but I'm not sure that Chaucer could stand on his own and still be theatrically viable.

Ideally, the audience we are appealing to will either not have read all the reviews, good, bad or indifferent, or really won't care. Twenty years ago, a huge number of people went to the theatre to see variety. That sort of entertainment has been replaced by the big musicals, and we feel that The Canterbury Tales appeals directly to that great mass of audience who are not particularly interested in watching a serious play and would like to see something other than Miss Saigon or Phantom of the Opera. We plan to be at the Garrick Theatre for a long time.

Interview by Dominic Cavendish

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