Chaucer All Strung Up (The Franklin's Tale)

Wed 31st July – Mon 26th August 2013


Megan Stodel

at 22:06 on 4th Aug 2013



‘Chaucer All Strung Up’ uses acrobatics and puppetry to retell the Franklin’s Tale from ‘The Canterbury Tales’. While the performers' skill is impressive, the premise and script are both weak.

The cast are born entertainers. The best part of the experience might have been before the show even started, as the excited and talkative Dorigen (Rhianna Frost) entertained me and my fellow reviewer with a story about us as princesses. Dotted throughout the audience, other cast members were being similarly interactive. They were at ease in this environment and created a friendly atmosphere.

Their calibre as performers was confirmed by their circus skills. Jamie Hansen demonstrated confident trapeze artistry while Marika McKennell and Constance Chapman impressed on the silks. Even though Ray (Tris Hobson) was supposed to be inadequate at circus tricks, his exaggerated messing up of climbing the silks gave away some prowess. This is clearly what the cast do, and they do it well.

However, it is all too clear that the production is a vehicle for these skills and beyond ooh-ing and aah-ing at them as they flip around their apparatus, there is little to be taken from it. The plot is contrived, adapting the Franklin’s Tale half-heartedly. The relationship that develops between Dorigen and Gus (Jamie Hansen) is awkward and I struggled to care about its success, which was just as well, as loose ends are never tied up. By deciding to adapt an existing tale, Strung Up Theatre Company has suffered from a need to follow a plot that works much better in a 14th century context. In addition, it was completely unclear who their desired audience was. There were a few children around and the cast seemed to pitch it at their level, but there were a number of moments when I questioned the appropriateness of content and actions for younger viewers.

At the start of the play, Dorigen, Ray and Franklin (Tris Hobson) are portrayed using puppets; it is unclear why, or why the puppets are abandoned after five minutes. As the puppetry was performed near floor level, I could only catch the occasional glimpse through the heads of those in front of me. As the play progressed, scenes continued to be performed at lower levels, with the cast sitting on the floor to chat, and while I understand the need for creating dynamic visuals, one would have thought the issue of levels was solved when half the cast was up in the air.

The cast are delightful; they would do much better in a different piece of original writing, or even an improvised children’s show. However, ‘Chaucer All Strung Up’ is too difficult to engage with for them to truly shine.


Anjali Joseph

at 09:28 on 5th Aug 2013



The actors were lively and engaging and, as entertainers, are clearly talented. However, it is unclear what exactly this production was trying to be and do. I initially thought that this might actually be a children’s show, with only the occasional bawdy joke, a bit of making out, and a dramatic and emotional finale to suggest otherwise. As a result, without fully understanding what their intention is, it is difficult to judge this as a piece. Although billed as a retelling of Chaucer’s ‘Franklin’s Tale’, the plotline seemed fairly incidental to this production, with the focus shifted instead onto the visual spectacle that Strung Up Theatre certainly provided.

What is evident, however, is the range of talent within this company. From gymnastic ability, to dance and music, the audience, young and old alike, were completely enthralled by the incorporation of trapeze and silks into this production. Breaking the fourth wall from the outset, the cast began the performance by milling around the audience, introducing themselves and teasing one another.

Rhianna Frost, who plays Dorigen, was a joy to watch in this situation, and both physically and vocally captured her character’s innocence and playful charm beautifully. The ensemble was adept at encouraging audience participation (even if their musical interludes seemed to be little more than filler) and they ad-libbed impressively in response to prop mishaps such as one of their puppets’ arms falling off mid-production. Having said that, I’m not convinced that the puppets added much to the production, and fail to see what their purpose was, other than adding another dimension to the performance. They actually detract from what is visually an impressive piece, particularly as they perform in a venue where the small puppet work is actually difficult to see.

This production’s use of space was particularly impressive, given how intimate the venue was. The gymnastic equipment added dimension to what could have been a limited set, and the decision to embed the musicians within the audience itself contributed to the informality of this production. The acting itself was variable, but the cast compensated for this with an energy and silliness which was arguably more crucial to this production than dramatic ability. Light-hearted and animated, what ‘Chaucer All Strung Up’ lacked in depth, it more than made up for in entertainment value.


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