The Canterbury Tales

Canterbury Tales (musical) adapted by Nevill Coghill and Martin Starkie 1973

Canterbury Tales (play) adapted by Phil Woods with Michael Bogdanov 1981

Canterbury Tales (play) adapted by Phil Woods with Michael Bogdanov 1987

Canterbury Tales (musical / concert) adapted by Nevill Coghill and Martin Starkie 1991

Canterbury Tales (play) adapted by Robin Davies and Michael Bogdanov 1994

Canterbury Tales (play) adapted by Mike Poulton 2006


Adapted for the stage from Geoffrey Chaucer's collection of 24 stories written in the late 14th-century. A group of pilgrims each recount a tale to entertain their companions on the road to Canterbury. By turns comic, bawdy and sublime, these great, theatrical tales and their tellers are a vivid testimony to Chaucer's insight into human nature. Partly due to their bawdy nature the Tales where not produced on the West End stage until 1968.


Canterbury Tales (musical) adapted by Nevill Coghill and Martin Starkie 1973

Previewed from 19 March 1968, Opened 21 March 1968, Closed 24 March 1973 at the Phoenix Theatre

Adapted from Geoffrey Chaucer's novel by Nevill Coghill and Martin Starkie with lyrics by Nevill Coghill and music by Richard Hill and John Hawkins.

The original cast featured Michael Logan as 'the Host', Wilfred Brambell, Jessie Evans and Kenneth J Warren with Marc Arnall, Trevor Baxter, Billy Boyle, Kevin Brennan, Pamela Charles, Julian Grant, Nicky Henson, Nancy Nevinson, James Ottaway, John Rutland, Gay Soper and Daniel Thorndike. Directed by Vlado Habunek with sets by Derek Cousins and costumes by Loudon Sainthill.

Running for 2,082 performances over five years this was, at the time, the longest running production at the Phoenix Theatre until Blood Brothers arrived in 1991 at the start of a 21 year run.


Canterbury Tales (play) adapted by Phil Woods with Michael Bogdanov 1981

Opened 16 December 1980, Closed 24 January 1981 at the Round House

Adapted from Geoffrey Chaucer's novel by Phil Woods with Michael Bogdanov.

Directed by Michael Bogdanov. Presented by The New Vic Theatre.


Canterbury Tales (play) adapted by Phil Woods with Michael Bogdanov 1987

Previewed 7 July 1987, Opened 17 July 1987, Closed 12 September 1987 at the Prince of Wales Theatre

Adapted from Geoffrey Chaucer's novel by Phil Woods with Michael Bogdanov.

The original cast featured Chris Barnes, Philip Bowen, Robin Davies, Susan Franklyn, Karen Henson, Micky O'Donoughue and James Tillitt. Directed by Michael Bogdanov with choreography by Sally Bowden, sets by Mo Holden, costumes by Yvonne Milnes, lighting by Chic Reid.

Revival of the 1980 play version. Presented by The New Vic Theatre.


Canterbury Tales (musical / concert) adapted by Nevill Coghill and Martin Starkie 1991

Opened 1 August 1991, Closed 10 August 1991 at the Arts Theatre

Adapted from Geoffrey Chaucer's novel by Nevill Coghill and Martin Starkie with lyrics by Nevill Coghill and music by Richard Hill and John Hawkins.

Concert revival of the 1968 musical version. Performed by The Chaucer Festival Players with Martin Starkie.


Canterbury Tales (play) adapted by Robin Davies and Michael Bogdanov 1994

Previewed 6 July 1994, Opened 14 July 1994, Closed 10 September 1994 at the Garrick Theatre

Adapted from Geoffrey Chaucer's novel by Robin Davies and Michael Bogdanov, from an original production by Michael Bogdanov.

The original cast featured Brian Glover as 'the Miller' with David Baile as 'the Pardoner', Richard Cant as 'the Knight', Eileen Dunwoodie as 'the Wife of Bath', Nicolas Lumley as 'the Vicar', Adrian Neil as 'the Reeve', Katherine Oliver as 'the Franklin', Jenny Forsyth as 'the Cook' and Frazer Hoyle as 'the Minstrel'.

Directed by Peter James with choreography by Kenn Olfield, designs by Douglas Heap, lighting by Nick Beadle and music by Chris Barnes.

A revised revival of the 1980/1987 version.

"On a sweltering evening it is an ordeal to sit through this bum and fart show... The luckless Chaucer's adapter is Michael Bogdanov, the writer Robin Davies, and the two may have worked together on Bogdanov's version of The Tales a few years back, which I was fortunate enough to miss. Of course there are bums and farts aplenty in the original, breasts and middens, lusty scholars, priests armed with red hot pokers. The reckless involvement of body parts inflamed the minds of many a pilgrim on the medieval equivalent of the M2. But the stories also included elaborate social comment and details of character that allowed a respite from sex and faeces. Bogdanov's adaptation has been given a new setting, that of a vicarage garden, which is sufficiently improbable to arouse curiosity... The occasion is the village's annual Chaucer-telling competition: five finalists, Mr Reeve the milkman, Miss Franklin the riding-school mistress, and so forth... The acting style is bold, quick, jab-you-in-the-ribs stuff, the cast pretending in vain that the double-entendres are taking them by surprise. Coarse acting, in both senses, prevails; that is to say, the company pretend to be amateurs trying their best. They succeed in this. They all manage the audience interaction bits nicely. Adrian Neil, Richard Cant, Katherine Oliver catch the eye. But the dirt lies thick, and the way into it is groaningly obvious. That's really the trouble: everything sticks out a mile. If you know what I mean." The Times

"There is a lot of awful rhyme but precious little reason for this laboured update of Chaucer's 14th-Century stories. It ends up as a cross between a medieval Carry On and an X-certificate summer panto. No entendre is left undoubled. No bodily function overlooked. No private part left private. Brian Glover, as The Miller, enthusiastically enters into the spirit of things in crackpot costumes ranging from a giant cock (behave yourself, it's the bird variety) and an elephant who spends a shovel full of pennies on stage. Some of the jokes nearly date back to Chaucer's time and the most popular four-letter word is fart - accompanied by sound effects. It's a B and B - bed and bawd - and bawd rapidly rhymes with bored." The Daily Mirror

"The English in holiday mood are not a pretty sight. To the mounds of lard melting on Europe's holiday beaches can be added the soggy faces of West End audiences after an evening making whoopee with Chaucer. Now we all know that Chaucer was, in every sense except the strictly historical one, the original Anglo-Saxon. He never used six letters when four would do, and what he couldn't rhyme with 'ers' wasn't worth a tinker's curse. The trouble with Michael Bogdanov's adaptation of his own 1979 adaptation is his apparent conviction that he can match the master at his own game, overlaying the bawdiness of the tales themselves with a pier-end humour of tits, bums and mother-in-law jokes. The result is about as amusing as watching two schoolboys trying to out-fart each other... The strenuous framing concept - a Canterbury Tale-telling contest at a village fete - is frankly embarrassing, pushing a remarkably game Brian Glover into ever shallower and more putrid cul-de-sacs of joke-telling, and throwing his very able colleagues into mirthless rictuses of hilarity... The glory of the Tales is their witty and revealing exploration of the relationships between the different classes and literary traditions of Chaucer's England, destroyed here by the boisterous interruptions of a modern-day fete worse than death." The Guardian

The Canterbury Tales in London at the Garrick Theatre previewed from 6 July 1994, opened on 14 July 1994 and closed on 10 September 1994


Canterbury Tales (play) adapted by Mike Poulton 2006

Previewed 8 July 2006, Opened 13 July 2006, Closed 4 November 2006 at the Gielgud Theatre

Adapted from Geoffrey Chaucer's novel by Mike Poulton for the Royal Shakespeare Company and presented in two parts.

The cast featured Nick Barber, Claire Benedict, Daon Broni, Dylan Charles, Paola Dionisotti, Lisa Ellis, Christopher Godwin, Mark Hadfield, Michael Hadley, Anna Hewson, Edward Hughes, Michael Jibson, Michael Matus, Barry McCarthy, Chu Omambala, Ian Pirie, Joshua Richards, Christopher Saul, Katherine Tozer and Darren Tunstall. Directed by Gregory Doran, Rebecca Gatward and Jonathan Munby with movement by Michael Ashcroft, designs by Michael Vale, lighting by Wayne Dowdeswell, music by Adrian Lee and sound by Jeremy Dunn.

These two productions come into London's West End following a successful run at the Royal Shakespeare Company's home base in Stratford-upon-Avon last year which was followed by a UK regional tour. PLEASE NOTE: This production may not be suitable for children under the age of 12.

The two parts of The Canturbury Tales are self-contained productions, so can be watched in isolation and do not necessarily need to be seen in chronological order.

The Canterbury Tales Part I features The Knight, The Miller and Other Tales and is presented on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings and Thursday and Saturday matinees: The pilgrim's journey begins with the pageantry and spectacle of The Knight's Tale as chivalrous rivals compete for their love's affections. Later love is of a different vein in the shape of the bawdy Miller's Tale, before the farmyard chaos of the Nun's Priest's Tale as the vain cockerel Chaunticleer is abducted by the wily col-fox.

The Canterbury Tales Part II features The Wife Of Bath and Other Tales and is presented on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings: As the colourful characters near Canterbury, perhaps the most famous of the pilgrims, the worldly-wise Wife of Bath, regales her fellow travellers with tales of unfortunate and downtrodden husbands. In contrast the Franklin tells his romance of Arveragus, Aurelius and Dorigen, steeped in the lofty ideals of chivalry and courtly love.

"For the first time, the RSC tackles Chaucer, via two plays that encompass nigh on every one of his 20-plus Canterbury Tales. Such a venture, six daunting hours for actors and audience alike, must stand or fall by its adaptation. Luckily, Mike Poulton has come up with a witty, scanning, rhyming verse treatment that perfectly captures Chaucer's beguiling mixture of the carnal and the spiritual. A boisterous ensemble multitasks impressively as both the Canterbury-bound pilgrims and the characters in the stories they tell to pass time. No wonder three directors were employed to ensure that this swiftflowing traffic of the almost bare stage doesn't encounter any jams... Mark Hadfield's nicely sardonic Chaucer breaks off from commentating on the words and deeds of his fellows to give a rap rendition of Arthurian legend. Claire Benedict has great fun as the bawdy Wife of Bath, the only traveller whose personal circumstances prove more gripping than fiction. Avoid the overload of both parts in one day, and enjoy watching Shakespeare's company revel in another cornerstone of our literature." The London Evening Standard

"The RSC's two-play production of The Canterbury Tales brings medieval characters to life with all the freshness and virility of Chaucer's own writing style. A whole day of Chaucer might sound like work but when the curtain fell that night I was cheering. The day had zipped past in the company of these all-too-human pilgrims. I wish every teenager in the country could see it. This adaptation is so funny, so sweet-spirited in its bawdy, so artful in the way it lays bare the medieval mindset and its connections and dissociations from our own, it could create a generation in love with our other national bard. Though pruned, almost all the tales are here, brilliantly 'translated', sometimes almost line for line, by Mike Poulton into a modern English that keeps some medieval words like 'swive' (the meaning of which becomes blindingly obvious) and makes jokes about medieval pronunciation... Chaucer used all the narrative forms available in his day: chivalric romance, the coarse truths of fable, the legends of saints' lives, moral allegories and courtly lays. Gregory Doran, Rebecca Gatward and Jonathan Munby, who co-direct, have translated this approach dramatically... Highlights include Paola Dionisotti playing the Prioress with a Maggie Smith intonation and Claire Benedict with a lascivious, scary grin as the Wife of Bath. Michael Jibson brings something special to all his roles, particularly the vain student Absalon combing his crinkly hair. Part I has rather more laughs than Part II, but Part II has the rap and the final arrival at Canterbury which, though it doesn't happen in the original, allows the pilgrims to join in singing a hymn where Chaucer ended his tales with a sermon." The Sunday Telegraph

"A richly variegated, yet authentic show, studded with eye-catching performance... The characters' diversity is matched by the richness of the staging [that] shows the RSC's ability to animate heritage beyound its Shakespearian remit. Here is an antic merriment that overspills the stage, infectious as bubonic plague, invigorating as a pinch from a passing squire. It's worth saddling up for." The Sunday Times

"Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales is a glorious medieval tapestry, colourful and comic, and richly woven with shrewdly and sharply observed characters, which the Royal Shakespeare Company's exuberantly entertaining double-bill brings vividly to life. As the pilgrims canter to Canterbury astride hobby horses, they chatter, squabble and tell tales, some highfalutin and profound, others lowbrow and flippant. In spite of the presence of several men and women of the cloth, there's no censorship. Indeed, smut abounds in the text and in Greg Doran's fruity and funny staging. The prim or prudish should steer well clear of the usually genteel Stratford-upon-Avon, for here you'll find plenty of barefaced cheek. Mike Poulton has come up with an adaptation that feels both thoroughly Chaucerian and wonderfully accessible, so when 'wyghts' merrily 'swyve and swinke', which is a regular pastime for this gang, it's clear from the context what these characters are getting up to... The costumes - exquisite gowns, wimples and slippers - in gorgeous colours add to the rich medievalism of the show, and the simple staging is both minimalist and impressively flexible. There is a floor of springy, very English green grass, and a wooden climbing frame ideal for suggesting a jail, a castle or a bedroom. A decorative golden tree proves just the thing for naughty little May - from The Squire's Tale - to shimmy up for an assignation with her young man, without horrid old husband January noticing. Part Two is even better than Part One, and it is here that we get the best tales: the Squire's, the Clerk's truly moving tale of Patient Griselda who is tested beyond human endurance by her dishy but suspicious husband, and The Wife Of Bath's Tale, a search for what it is that men most desire." The Mail on Sunday

The Canterbury Tales in London at the Gielgud Theatre previewed from 8 July 2006, opened on 13 July 2006 and closed on 4 November 2006.