Writer: John Nicholson and La Navet Bete
Music: Peter Coyle
Director: John Nicholson
Reviewer: Charlotte Robson
The four-man company of La Navet Bete returns to the adventures of their childhood, in their heroic roles as – and in – The Three Musketeers. And as they don their homemade costumes, assign parts and fling stuffed mallards about with abandon, they invite the audience to join them.
Though following with recognisable accuracy the plot of Alexandre Dumas’ titular romance, The Three Musketeers is less concerned with the exact recreation of the world or the characters, and more with the inherent spirit of adventure, fellowship, grand passions and grander deeds that the novel went on to inspire in popular culture – and especially in the personal histories of the four performing company members. The set – designed by Ti Green and constructed by Steel Monkey Engineering – may be modelled on a children’s play den, but it provides a flexible, dynamic and inventive space through which the actors and cast are able to conjure up the many environments through which Athos, Porthos, Aramis, D’Artagnan and their foes and friends cannon along in pursuit of love, honour, vengeance, and occasionally each other.
In a similar vein, the costumes are kept simple and scrappy, making creative use of materials to provide clear signifiers of a character’s nature and role. Even more impressive is the use of simple lighting changes and musical cues to assist the audience’s understand of place, character and tone. While the actors racing through multiple parts, often within the same scene, can occasionally be confusing, the play’s thousand-mile-a-minute pace helps to skate over some of the plot’s more overcomplicated or jarringly juxtaposed moments. Many of these are inherited from the source material, and while there are admirable attempts in John Nicholson’s writing to make light of these awkward elements, they are nonetheless a likely sticking point for any audience member unfamiliar with Dumas’ original text.
The sheer number of jokes that are, therefore, crammed into every scene are both a core part of the play’s strength, and something of an Achilles’ heel. The variety of The Three Musketeers’ humour, from slapstick antics to wordplay, from sources both diegetic and not, keeps the audience on their toes, always waiting for the next joke, without overplaying its hand or becoming predictable. However, in its bid to remain inventive and surprising, a few jokes do fall flat – there are only so many times and ways in which one can make a joke about perverted priests, or Brexit – and the occasional fourth wall breaking outburst or curiously random musical interlude can be jarring rather than charming.
However, much like in the childhood games the production invokes, it is entirely possible to forgive the occasional awkward diversion or creaky transition as one is swept along in the wild, heedless enthusiasm of one’s playmates. Dan Bianchi, Nick Bunt, Al Dunn, and Matt Freeman – no matter how random or fleeting some of their roles might be – are limitless engines of charisma, enthusiasm, and energy. They are clearly having the time of their lives, and as they sprint and slope and climb and clatter about the stage it is impossible to resist the delightful, giggly air of fun they create around them.
One for all, and all for one, goes the cry of our heroes. And in this rough, rapid, occasionally wobbly, but utterly hilarious and heartfelt production, La Navet Bete make their production of The Three Musketeers exactly that.
Tours until 11 October 2019 | Image: Mark Dawson Photography