When a train from London to Canterbury gets delayed by five hours (it does happen!), the passengers, along with the onboard crew, tell stories to pass the time. Presented in an easy-going manner, the tales are refreshing and cover the gamut of moods, from childish to sombre. Personally, I have always found Chaucer to be a great storyteller, but hard to read; this delightful production removes that barrier by simplifying the language.
The stranded passengers naturally have very different personalities, all very colourful. They include a flamboyant American woman, a devout Father, a stern-faced Colonel, and a charity worker. After groaning at the announcement of the delay to their journey (as passengers are wont to do), the Colonel is quick to galvanise the troops into storytelling; half an hour and several stories later, we've come to know them personally. In the meantime we've heard a wartime tale of love, enjoyed another about rough hooligans and their loot, found out what women really want (yes!), and learned about the five husbands of the American lady.
There were many things that worked perfectly in this play. The most striking is the practised use of a small stage by more than a dozen actors; each entry and exit is flawless, and the movement and repositioning during the script is commendable. The use of seats which double up as props in the stories is also innovative, while the platform scene of utter chaos and melee is well-executed, and got many laughs out of the audience.
Furthermore, the way the passengers are introduced by the ticket inspector is a strong point in the script, helping the audience form a unified opinion of them. It reminded me a little of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, where each character receives a letter from the same person.
There were, however, a few occasions when the script seemed a little lacking. As most of the dialogue is in verse, it was confusing that it rhymed at times but not at others – all within the same monologue. For a while I even wondered if there were a few forgotten lines, but as I say, I think it was actually the writing that was the problem.
All the same, this is a short, punchy show, with plenty of light-hearted laughter and naughty limericks to enjoy. Watch it before it finishes its run!