This witty, entertaining account of Geoffrey Chaucer's slimy conman and his moral tale stands up well in 2014 complete with delicious topical twists, an enjoyable bit of interaction and some splendid music and onstage sound effects.
The auditorium smells of incense and the emergence of one actor and two musicians from the opening blackout, in blue monkish robes with swinging censor and medieval-style Latin chant creates an atmosphere of dramatic religiosity – ready to exploit the gullibility of the people and play on their fears.
Gary Lagden – think of a highly talented Welsh ‘'but I can do any voice'' Stephen Berkoff-style one man multi-roler in fine form – introduces himself by graphically demonstrating what a pardoner did and jokes grimly about the seven deadly sins and telling his audience with a twinkle that lust is not suitable for seven to eleven year olds who'd better just think of it as desire.
Eventually, shifting seamlessly amongst his variously voiced characters, he starts on the story – in verse of sorts - of three men who go in search of Death and soon find him, although not quite in the way that they intended. They are victims of their own avarice, of course, because as Lagden's character keeps reminding the audience "Greed is the root of all evil''.
Musicians Christopher Preece and Hannah Marshall make a fine job of providing haunting music on cello, percussion, hammered dulcimer, recorder and a lovely set of tuned pendular bottles. They also sing – sometimes with Lagden – and they manage squelchily and raspingly colourful sound effects on stage as well as a short interlude with static shadow puppetry. All of this is a critical element in the storytelling.
So all in all it's an impressively original and compelling piece of theatre in which the best and funniest bits are probably the modern references in which we are hilariously reminded, among many other things, that buying too many clothes, taking a big bonus if you're a banker, spending too much time on Twitter or eating sweets in the theatre (not permitted at Unicorn) are sins too.