Writer: Sydney Stevenson
Director: Joseph O’Malley
Hybrid theatre takes another new meaning this week with the release of Foolhardy’s The Three Musketeers which combines classic animation, online theatre via Zoom and audio drama as a company of actors come together to voice a new version of the story. Essentially, The Three Musketeers Goes Wrong, this entertaining 65-minute show written by Sydney Stevenson is the best thing since Dogtanian.
Founder of Foolhardy, David du Lesley has gathered a company of actors and star Robert Lindsey to read his new version of The Three Musketeers in which new recruit D’Artagnan must travel to England to rescue some diamonds and spare the blushes of Queen Anne who has been set a trap by the evil Cardinal Richelieu. Only, the actors start to mutiny as they read du Lesley’s script, technical hiccups ruin the broadcast and Robert Lindsey is not at all happy to be playing the Narrator rather than the lead.
Stevenson’s play-within-a-play format proves highly entertaining as her lead character prepares the audience for a live streamed “never before witnessed, ground-breaking adaption” of Dumas’ classic. Stevenson controls the chaos well, balancing the progressing Musketeers story with the behind-the-scenes dramas as the performance slowly falls apart. And The Three Musketeers is just silly enough to get away with it.
None of this detracts or distracts from Barbara Owczarek’s illustration and animation that looks to 70s and 80s TV classics for inspiration. No characters actually appear in the cartoon that only uses locations with dialogue layered over the top, encouraging the audience to use their imagination. A page turning effect moves the story on, a slight shuffling of the image implies conversation between the invisible subjects and a cloud of dust represents the many scuffles along the way – it’s charmingly done.
Taking the characters out of the image has its disadvantages particularly in longer static scenes where the moving camera just makes the image sway, but it relies on the actors to convey the heightened emotion and melodrama using just their vocal talents which they do well, and the main plot rattles along very nicely with just enough swashbuckling adventure to sustain the running time.
Giving the actors character names feels a little superfluous for what is staged as an online reading in which they all play various parts in the Dumas adaptation and towards the end, the cast intrusions become a little over-egged. However, there is amusement in the growing rebellion as Lindsey leaves in a huff and the character of Maisie Stephens rails against the lack of agency in the female roles, acknowledging the shortcomings within the classic novel.
As put-upon writer hogging the leading roles, Antony Eden’s D’Artagnan is all panto tones as the dramatic hero while his David du Lesley is increasingly exasperated by his troublesome cast and has some fine exchanges with a disgruntled Lindsey who has lots of fun playing himself. Lydea Perkins is also notable as a frustrated Queen Anne and as Maisie who fights back. Dianne Pilkington plays the scheming Milady de Winter and an underused David Badella voices the King.
There is little for the central Musketeers to do in this version of the story and, as Lindsey gripes, this is far from a faithful or complete adaptation, but The Three Musketeers is great fun and more than a year into our hybrid theatre model, entirely innovative in its use of animation.
Runs here until 27 June 2021