Ebullient, exuberant and bursting with energy, the cast of The Miller’s Tale fills its stage from the start and transports you to a world of colour, noise and nefarious goings on. Transplanting Chaucer’s age-old tale of the cuckold husband and his adulterous wife into modern-day Nigeria, they draw their audience in from the start and make you feel intrinsically involved in their story. The venue is one of the larger theatres and the audience was small – yet still, without missing a beat, without letting the buzz drop for a second, they spoke to us, performed for us and hooked us in.
As a cast they are very physically competent – not simply in the dancing interludes (which are only top and tail details), but even just in moving across the stage, interacting with each other, presenting themselves to the audience to deliver a monologue. It is a joy to watch actors so thoroughly command their space – and if the pace of the narrative didn’t quite maintain its momentum all the way to the end, as performers they could not be faulted for the sheer force they brought to the space.
The relocation to Nigeria offered a colourful setting, though perhaps there was more opportunity for political commentary than was fully realised. The idea of division within single languages was fascinating and one they returned to again and again. The idea of Pidgin English as an indecipherable tributary from English ‘Proper’, just as Chaucer’s Middle English is, raised intriguing speculation about communication and derivation. What is the original story? What is the ‘true’ language for telling that story? How alike are two cultures that operate, theoretically, around one single language but deploy it in different ways?
The Miller’s Tale tapped into these ideas without quite making the most of them, I feel. But nevertheless, this remains a dynamic, ecstatic performance – an animated retelling of an oft-spun yarn. See it, and give this vibrant production the audience it deserves.
The Miller’s Tale: Wahala Dey Oh! is playing at C venues as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 27 August. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.