Writer: John Nicholson and Le Navet Bete
Director: John Nicholson
Adaptation: Le Navet Bete / John Nicholson (from The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas)
Reviewer: Helen Tope
A story full of intrigue and swagger, the adventures of D’Artagnan, Athos, Aramis and Porthos qualify as one of literature’s most well-loved and familiar tales.
Written in 1844 by Alexandre Dumas, the novel takes us into the workings of the French court, and to the heart of the British establishment. A novel about power – as a force for good, and tool of oppression, The Three Musketeers is a notoriously difficult work to adapt. A 700-page novel with a massive cast of characters, and narrative threads to connect them all, squeezing this into a 2-hour stage show seems an impossible task.
Le Navet Bete have taken this challenge, creating a production that breathes new life into an old classic. Using a cast of four, Le Navet Bete’s energy is put to good use – no minor character is left behind. A densely-packed story also gives the cast more opportunity to develop individual characters. Matt Freeman as Milady de Winter delivers a fabulous take on the spy / seductress trope. With her love for fashion, and thick Russian accent, Milady is most definitely borrowing from the Villanelle playbook. As a villain for hire, Milady is the shape-shifting, morally ambiguous character we more usually associate with 21st-Century fiction. She is strikingly modern, and Freeman’s characterisation makes a compelling case for Milady to join the top tier of literary bad girls.
The story-telling here is so well done, we never lose track of the narrative. Every nugget of exposition is dealt with clearly and succinctly, making this a great introduction to Dumas. The classic themes of The Three Musketeers are all present and correct: brotherly love, loyalty to the crown and a freewheeling attitude to sex that’s so 17th Century.
The production really focuses on giving us a clear identity to Dumas’ fictional world. While the temptation would be to go with the stereotypes – what we think we know about the Musketeers – Le Navet Bete’s adaptation is more emotionally complex. D’Argantan’s eagerness to show fidelity to Queen Anne means helping her cover up an affair with the British Prime Minister.
But at the heart of the production is the friendship between the Musketeers themselves. The camaraderie between the four actors – Al Dunn, Matt Freeman, Nick Bunt and Dan Bianchi – is no surprise to anyone who’s already seen a Le Navet Bete production. The show’s dynamic is so finely woven, even the unexpected moments and ad-libs feel perfectly in sync. This is the type of production that thoroughly depends on the ability to move quickly from scene to scene. On-stage costume changes and scene shifting are done with military precision. You’re not just watching a play, you’re being shown what it takes to hold a production together.
With a gorgeously detailed set from designer Ti Green, Le Navet Bete present a multi-faceted show that moves from forest to palace in the blink of an eye. Leaving the audience to fill the stage with their imagination, this production is a great reminder that theatre can be funny and engrossing without the bells and whistles. Stripped back to basics, with a strong cast, great crew and fantastic story, Le Navet Bete ask the question – what else do you need?
Runs until Saturday 17 August 2019 | Image: contributed