Thursday, 9 August 2018

REVIEW: The Three Musketeers at St Paul's Church, Covent Garden

On a warm pleasant night in central London what better way is there than to spend the evening in the grounds of the Actors Church tucked away behind Covent Garden street performers being transported by Iris theatre to La Rochelle in France in the 1620's. It is an action packed fun filled promenade performance that clearly appeals to all ages as the children in this audience are drawn into the action from the very first scene. We meet the musketeers in the middle of the siege of the La Rochelle as the Protestant Huguenots supported by the English are attacked by Catholics under Cardinal Richelieu. Two small girls are drafted in with red capes to take on Aramis in a duel. It sets the tone for the evening.

This is a classic retelling of Dumas famous novels of D'Artagnan's desire to join the musketeers, of Athos's secret past life and of the Queen of France's infidelity. But here artistic director and writer Daniel Winder gives it a twist by making D'Artangnan a female in disguise and the duplicitous spy Miliady the narrator. This elevates the female roles to central protagonists of the story , challenging the Cardinal's belief that "all men require from women is unthinking obedience" and breaking free from "scheming male politicians trying to control all women".

As a result the three female cast members are at the centre of the action, get many of the best lines , and prove that there was "more than one resourceful woman in France". Jenny Horsthuis returns to Iris as D'Artagnan with a gruff voice and intense look, clearly intending to make an impact on the French court. Alisa Joy is a wide eyed strong Milady brimming with energy and emotion and enjoying a wonderfully choreographed sword fight towards the end. Bethan Rose Young plays the love lorn Constance, the unfaithful Queen of France and has great fun as the landladies of the Dusty Duck, Playful Puck and Flying, we never quiet hear the full name!

The Musketeers themselves also double up their parts with Matt Stubbs, a tormented Athos and scheming Richelieu, Elliot Liburd a sincere Porthos and flamboyant King and Albert de Jongh, with a crutch and ankle cast integrated into the show, as a weary Aramis and heroic Buckingham. Each very successfully differentiates their different characters.

The seventh member of the cast is Stephen Boyce who plays a comical Planchet, and a serious Treville as well as other parts. His multi voiced, multipart role becomes part of the farcical action as he complains of too many roles and too much running around. At times the action is almost pantomime in its delivery, with audience interaction, over the top reactions, often shouted lines and slapstick but it adds to the fun.

The promenade element takes us to four different areas in the grounds which represent the French court gardens, French pubs , Buckingham's English home and the fortress of La Rochelle and each act closes in the atmospheric Church which represent the French court and a Covent . The simple settings by designers Abby and Alice are very effective in creating the locations and their entrances and exits . However the movement between locations is hampered by narrow pathways and steps and it takes the audience time to settle each time.

Overall this an enjoyable experience and director Paul Ryan Carberry and fight director Roger Bartlett successfully create the feel of the period and produce an action packed couple of hours entertainment with a cast full of swashbuckle and energy. The production is at its best and most dramatic in the atmospheric church where the lighting , smoke, acoustics and presence of so many great performers memorial stones adds to the theatricality and presents a thrilling dramatic climax.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★

Seats: Promenade with seats available at each location | Price: £20
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