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Brief Encounter with... Conrad Nelson

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Conrad Nelson is a key player in Yorkshire-based touring theatre company Northern Broadsides, recently excelling in the role of Iago to Lenny Henry’s Othello, in the company’s recent critically acclaimed production. He is also Associate Director of Northern Broadsides.

He is director and composer for the Broadsides’ most recent production of The Canterbury Tales, in a revamped new version by Mike Poulton.

His acting career spans over twenty years’ work in repertory and touring theatre, and in radio, television and film.

He has also built a reputation as a dramatic composer and has written music for theatre, television and radio.

Why have the Broadsides chosen to perform The Canterbury Tales?

The Canterbury Tales is a wonderful opportunity for telling a darn good yarn. Each tale is defined and celebrated by a texture all of its own.

What makes The Tales work as a theatrical production?

Clear and dynamic story telling in tandem with strong musicality has always been a hallmark of the company, and The Tales allow us to delight in both.

Broadsides have worked with puppet master Lee Threadgold before, on Treasure Island last Christmas. How are you using puppetry in this production?

It's my aim to increase the collaborative nature of drama and I aim to work with new members of the creative team. Lee Threadgold has already worked with the company and I had already spoken to him about the possibilities of working on Hamlet, but this is our first venture together.

In realising our Tales I was keen to incorporate a variety of storytelling techniques and puppetry was always in my mind. We use puppets to represent children, as naked lewd adults and in the Manciple's Tale as a singing Crow. It’s the story of how the Crow becomes black and loses its singing voice to a Caw as punishment from the god Apollo - this tale is a mini - opera!

How have you found the task of directing as well as composing?

Directing and composing is a joy and allows you to have a continuity of vision across the piece. In fact drama is the orchestration and music of the spoken word.

In essence the production is about theatre. There is no technological trickery (apart from a bit of reverb when we reach Canterbury Cathedral). And the telling of the Tales is delightfully human and imaginative and for that, immediate and theatrical. Also, there's a lovely binding theme to the Tales - a journey, a pilgrimage, a beginning, middle, and end.

Although we hear many stories, our Pilgrims are the mortar to our tales and the audience’s first point of contact. Here we see humanity in all its colours and we love them for that. In the end we are rewarding with spirituality and a union of hearts.

Which of Chaucer's characters will your audience most take a shine to - the Wife of Bath, the Merchant, or perhaps the Miller?!

There's too much to choose in terms of character favourites. Come see and pick your own...

- Conrad Nelson was speaking to Vicky Ellis

The Canterbury Tales is at West Yorkshire Playhouse from 30 March to 17 April, before continuing its national tour. For tickets, see www.wyp.org.uk


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