A classic English tale is brought to life this month at the Unicorn Theatre. In a co-production with Tangere Arts, Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale is given a modern update perfectly suitable for children and adults alike.
For those who are a little rusty on their Middle English literature, The Pardoner’s Tale combines “The Pardoner’s Introduction” and “The Pardoner’s Tale” from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer wrote an epic, albeit unfinished, novel on a pilgrimage to Canterbury. Along the way, each person of the group is required to tell a tale, often revealing some hidden truths about themselves or a satiric look at their social position.
The Pardoner is set up as a lying scoundrel – a man who preys on people’s fear in order to sell them cures and notes ‘pardoning’ them for their sins. It was an official position of the Church in fact. In this adaptation, the Pardoner introduces himself and all the tricks and ploys he uses to lure people in and then tells one of his favorite moral tales: the story of three drunken criminals who go off to kill Death.
Lewis Gibson, the director, composer and adapter of this new take on The Pardoner’s Tale, smartly modernizes the language and adds music and special effects to create a humorous retelling that is easy for young kids to understand.
Gary Lagden is perfection as the Pardoner and every other character that needs a voice. He is over-the-top and showy but reins it in with great comedic timing. Captivating to watch, Lagden is engaging and funny as the singing charlatan. Two musicians, Hannah Marshall and Christopher Preece, join him on stage. It is with these two performers that the production hits a minor snag. Understandably sedate as to not interfere with Lagden’s grandeur, the two come across slightly awkward at times and out of place. Worse, every once in a while they are off in pitch and synchronicity in their songs. However, overall they are extremely effective, adding to the mood of the show and revealing the tricks of the trade: how sound and lighting effects can be made with a few everyday objects. This is possibly my favorite part of the adaptation – it is very impressive, even for the adults, but the kids especially got a kick out of seeing how to create new worlds with objects like fruit, cereal or a microphone.
The interactions with the kids felt natural yet educational. They were having fun and exploring a new world and new ideas. While at times the show might have been a little mature for a seven year old, the recommended minimum age by the company, The Pardoner’s Tale is a fantastic way to introduce younger children to such classic, and sometimes confusing, literature. The cynicism about human nature and sin is a little dark, but is broken up enough with lightheartedness and laughter as to not be too unsettling for the young audience. Most impressive, the team did not dumb down the story, the acting, or the music just because it was “for kids.” Instead, they created an enjoyable production for young and old alike. So buy your pardon and go listen to The Pardoner’s Tale.