Bawdy production of Chaucerian favourites is a riotous, fun night out
To get the audience in the mood for Chaucer's exuberant The Canterbury Tales when it is performed at the Northcott Theatre in Exeter next week, theatregoers will be encouraged to come in with a drink in their hand.
"Always a good plan," laughs Rosalind Blessed. "Basically, you're on to a winner. It is based in a tavern and we have an awful lot of fun making it as authentic as we can.
"There's myself and John Canmore, who plays the owner of the tavern, welcoming people as they come in and we have musicians playing, so we start off in a fun place.
"It's great to have that contact with the audience. We respond to how people are in the audience."
Tacit Theatre's production takes Chaucer's 700-year-old stories, shared by pilgrims on their way to Canterbury, and breathes new life into them. Rosalind also plays The Wife of Bath; other tales recounted here are the stories of the Knight, the Miller, the Nun's Priest, the Friar and the Summoner. It will be a lively production, admits Rosalind.
"You can't get away from the word 'bawdy'! It really is great fun. We all think we've invented everything, but we didn't! There's a bit of everything in Chaucer. It's poignant... and then we go back to bare bottoms and folk songs. We couldn't do all the tales, so we have seven – the fun ones.
"By setting it within the tavern, the atmosphere is quite cosy and intimate. It's immediate rather than grand and epic, and it's really fun for the audience. It's a riotous, fun night out."
There's the F word again... Fun.
Rosalind Blessed seems ideally suited to play the joyous Wife of Bath as theatre is in her blood. Her mother is the actress Hildegarde Neil and her dad is Brian Blessed.
She was even named after the character in Shakespeare's As You Like It. "Rosalind was mum's favourite character in Shakespeare – a woman full of positive energy.
"But going into acting wasn't as inevitable as you might think. I was really academic when I was young. I loved physics and chemistry but I drifted towards the theatre. I suppose it was being around them; I really got a flavour for it."
She has inherited her father's love of animals – "I'm surrounded by four dogs, chickens, fish and guinea pigs" – and the outdoor life – "I love climbing, but I'll leave the mountains to him!"
She smiles when I suggest that her dad is something of a National Treasure. "The nice thing about dad is that he's exactly what you see – mad and eccentric – I've known that all my life."
Performing at the Northcott is something she's always wanted to do. She was a student at Exeter University in the early 1990s before going on to study drama at Central.
"I'm really looking forward to it. I really loved my time at Exeter," she says.
The Canterbury Tales is at the Northcott Theatre on Wednesday and Thursday, December 5 and 6.