The Canterbury Tales

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The Canterbury Tales[1], is a collection of 24 stories that run to over 17,000 lines written in Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343–1400) [2]

The stories have often been adapted for stage performance and have been the thematic source of a number of original plays.

Among those performed in South Africa have been the following:

Canterbury Tales musical by Hill, Hawkins and Coghill

A British musical, with the music written by Richard Hill [3] and John Hawkins, and the lyrics by Nevill Coghill [4].

Original text

It was originally presented at the Oxford Playhouse in 1964, conceived and directed by Martin Starkie [5] and written by Nevill Coghill and Martin Starkie. It was expanded into a full length musical and presented at the Phoenix Theatre, London on 21 March 1968 and ran for 2,080 performances. (Wikipedia [6])

The musical took five tales from Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales and told them with song and humour. These were: The Miller's Tale; The Nun's Priest's Tale; The Steward's Tale; The Merchant's Tale; and The Wife of Bath's Tale. In addition, Chaucer's Prologue and Epilogue were spoken.

Performance history in South Africa

1970: Staged by the JODS in the Johannesburg Civic Theatre, directed by Daniel Thorndike, with Phillip Boucher (Host), Rigby Foster (Knight), Ian Hamilton (Squire), Joey van Rooyen (Prioress), Sheila Ferguson (Nun), Hugh Rouse (Priest), David Chrichton (Cook), Ian Kemm (Friar), Marjorie Gordon (Wife of Bath), Kerry Jordan (Miller), George Korelin (Steward), Billy Boyle (Clerk of Oxford), Gabriel Bayman (Merchant), Louis Ife (Chaucer) and others. Musical direction by Thomas Erskine and choreography by Geoffrey Sutherland.

The Canterbury Tales opera by Erik Chisholm

Original text

The three act opera consists of three of Chaucer’s stories, "The Wife of Bath’s Tale", "The Pardoners Tale" and "The Nun’s Priest’s Tale", dramatized by the composer.

Performance history in South Africa

1961: Premiere performance by the University of Cape Town Opera School at the Little Theatre, directed by Robert Mohr, with Robert Garcia, Ernest Dennis and Albie Louw as the murderous three rogues in "The Pardoner's Tale" (October/November 1961).

2004: The Pardoner’s Tale from Chisholm's opera presented by Cape Town Opera in a double bill with his Dark Sonnet (5–7 February)

The Canterbury Tales (South African adaptation)

The Canterbury Tales, a stage adaptation of a collection of Chaucer's stories from The Canterbury Tales by Darryl Nel(2005).

Original text

It is a contemporary trilingual production in English, Afrikaans and Xhosa, and also features music performed by the cast and a live band. This adaptation was commissioned by the Grahamstown Foundation for the National Schools Festival in 2005. The production featured four of Chaucer's Tales: The Wife of Bath's Tale, The Franklin's Tale, The Miller's Tale and The Pardoner's Tale.

Performance history in South Africa

The production was produced by DSN Productions in collaboration with the First Physical Theatre Company Skills Programme and the Standard Bank National Schools Festival in July 2005. It was performed in the Guy Butler Theatre with the following cast: Anton Calitz, Wesley Hayter, Luks Hlungula, Danielle Kellermann, Masasa Mbangeni, Darryl Nel, Andrew Warneke, David van Wyk, and the First Physical Theatre Company Skills Programme dancers.


JODS theatre programme, 1970.

Standard Bank National Schools Festival programme, 2005

Wayne Muller. 2018. A reception history of opera in Cape Town: Tracing the development of a distinctly South African operatic aesthetic (1985–2015). Unpublished PhD thesis.

"Erik Chisholm: Snapshots of a remarkable life". University of Cape Town.

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