Tuesday, 2 October 2007
The Rap Canterbury Tales by Baba Brinkman, Oct 2, 2007
The Rap Canterbury Tales
by Baba Brinkman
Melbourne Fringe Festival
North Melbourne Town Hall
Oct 2 to 13, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 2, 2007
Baba Brinkman has a scary pedigree: a rap artist with a degree in mediaeval literature.
So why not perform Chaucer’s 14th century Canterbury Tales as rap poems? Chaucer’s Tales followed thirty travellers who killed time on their pilgrimage to Canterbury by telling tales. Brinkman’s 21st century version exchanges the pilgrims for a busload of rap artists en route to a gig.
Brinkman’s command of language, his subtle transformations of character and his capacity to transform Chaucer into modern form is exceptional. Rhythm and rhyme are never outmoded. He plays a star-struck stowaway rap fan and three pilgrims - The Pardoner, The Miller and the Wife of Bath – who are all impassioned, modern yarn-spinners.
Clearly not much has changed in human nature or poetic form in 600 years. Each character is a direct reflection of the 14th century persona with the same flaws, message and story to relate.
Playing The Pardoner, Brinkman is a conceited hypocrite who preaches anti-materialist, anti-greed messages in his rap but lives a privileged, avaricious life. The working class politics of his song serve merely to increase his CD sales.
As the inebriated Miller, Brinkman staggers drunkenly as he warns us about his obscenity, suggesting that the more sensitive leave now. Like any contemporary celebrity, he has a huge sponsorship deal with Miller Beer so he is permanently pickled. His racy story about adultery elicits the same hilarity now as it would have in 1400 when he tells of the lovelorn Absalom unwittingly kissing the bottom of his inamorata as she pokes it out her casement.
The diluted Girl Power feminism of the rap scene is evident in Brinkman’s tough yet coquettish Wife of Bath. The only female artist on the bus, having outlived five husbands, is the self-declared authority on marriage. She tells her Arthurian tale about a young man who avoids beheading for a crime of rape but finds himself betrothed to an ugly crone. He discovers that what women want most in the world is sovereignty over their husbands’ love. Love and fidelity. Same old, same old.
By Kate Herbert