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The Canterbury Tales – Smock Alley – Review

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The Canterbury Tales presented by the BA Drama (Performance) Graduates of DIT Conservatory of Music

and Drama – The Banqueting Hall, Smock Alley, Exchange Street Lower, Temple Bar, Dublin 8.

March 11th – 14th

From the minute that you walk into the sumptuous surroundings of Smock Alley’s Banqueting Hall you know that this isn’t going to be a regular theatrical experience. Instead of the traditional seating layout there are rows of long tables set for a feast. As you sit down actors in character fill your tankard with ale and you enjoy bread and fruit in the company of your fellow theatre goers. This all makes for a wonderful atmosphere before the first words of the play are even uttered.

When they do begin the play the audience are made to feel fully involved. We are guests on the group’s pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral rather than mere observers. Rather than stick to a rigid stage area the actors move amongst the audience interacting with them and making them feel fully involved. With five different stories on offer there is something for every taste and the snappy delivery ensures that the production never becomes tedious. There is humour and pathos throughout and a few musical numbers thrown in for good measure. Instead of a traditional interval the audience are served bowls of broth by the cast before they resume their journey, and fed and watered we return to the storytelling. When it ends there is almost a sense of disappointment that this communal theatrical experience is over.

Chaucer’s 14th Century masterpiece makes for a perfect showcase for the graduates performing here. The director Peter McDermott has chosen five of the stories for this and they are diverse enough to ensure that everyone in the cast gets to shine at different points. As with all student shows not everyone is cast appropriately to the age and experience of the character they play but the works have been suitably adapted to ensure that this doesn’t become a huge distraction. The costumes are colourful and intricate and the setting is perfect. The unusual layout makes for a truly engaging theatrical experience. If I had one complaint it is that depending on how far down the tables you sit at times it can be difficult to see the action at the top of the venue and perhaps it would be an idea to raise the area slightly higher.

With food created by students from the BA in Culinary Arts Programme, original video from the BA in Visual Communications students and original music from another student of the conservatory this is one of the most collaborative shows ever put on by the Conservatory of Music and Drama and it benefits greatly from utilising these resources. Everyone in the room left with a smile on their faces and while the stories might not resonate with you for hours after you leave they are certainly entertaining and engaging and even the biggest theatre philistine couldn’t fail to enjoy this unusual and interesting production.

 

The Canterbury Tales presented by the BA Drama (Performance) Graduates of DIT Conservatory of Music

and Drama – The Banqueting Hall, Smock Alley, Exchange Street Lower, Temple Bar, Dublin 8.

March 11th – 14th

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