The Rude Mechanical Theatre Company once again takes in the Festival of Chichester on its annual summer pilgrimage.
This time, it’s Chaucer that gets the company’s commedia dell’arte treatment with the Rude Mechanicals’ version of The Wife of Bath.
The Wife will be staged on Sunday, June 29 at 7.30pm in the garden of Halnaker Park Cottage, Park Lane, Halnaker, near Chichester.
Other performances include Dial Post (June 12), West Chiltington (June 13), Mannings Heath (June 28) and Sussex Prairies Garden, Henfield (August 10). Full details on www.therudemechanicaltheatre.co.uk.
Company founder and artistic director Pete Talbot admits he went through several changes of mind before deciding which play to bring. An early idea was too dark for the summer slots, and so he went back one of the company’s earlier successes, a piece which was a massive hit in 2003.
“At the time The Times newspaper put it in the top three outdoor plays of that summer and put it in their top 100 outdoor events of any kind. It’s Chaucer’s story, and it is such a good story. It deals with women and the role of women and the central concept of what it is that women want.
“Basically, it is from the Canterbury Tales. The Wife of Bath is a cloth merchant. She is a feminist. She is an independent woman. She has made her money from a poor background by marring rich men and watching them die. The first part of the play is about her five husbands.
“And then in the original there is the story of a young knight called Roland who ravishes a young maiden and is condemned to death by King Arthur. But Queen Guinevere says ‘I will save your life if you can answer what it is that women most desire.’
“In the original story, Chaucer does not fill in any details. He just finds the answer, and his life is spared. But in our play, we have his journey and his meeting with a series of women of various kinds. He concludes that they all want different things, but then he meets an old crone or somebody who appears to be an old woman, and she gives him the answer to the question.
“She says that in return he must give her whatever she asks, and so he goes back to the court of King Arthur and tells them the answer which is, wait for it, that women require the same degree of sovereignty over their husbands that mistresses have over their lovers.
“The point is that a lover loves his mistress for herself, for what she is. People married for security or whatever. Chaucer is saying that women want to be loved not because you need children or someone to do the washing. Women want to be loved for themselves, and the Wife of Bath, who is a feminist, makes it into an issue of sovereignty.”
The company has been going for 16 years ago: “But I have always done theatre. I was a teacher before I was a professional director and writer, but I did a lot of youth theatre in those days. I was also an independent professional directors as well.
“And then I decided that after teaching for 20 years, I really wanted to do the theatre full time. I left the teaching and started the theatre company. I really didn’t know what I was doing in the first year, and we lost money, but since then every year we have got a bit stronger and stronger. We have got a really loyal following. People are fanatical. They come to see us over and over again.”
The basis of the Rude Mechanicals remains its commedia dell’arte style, something which Pete studied in Italy before launching the company.