The Three Musketeers – St Paul’s Church, London

Writer: Daniel Winder
Director: Paul-Ryan Carberry
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Alexandre Dumas’ historical fiction set in the court of Louis XIII has been a fertile one for adaptation ever since it was first published. There is something about the fellowship of its central quartet of characters – the titular trio of Porthos, Athos and Aramis, plus the ingenue country boy D’Artagnan – that inspires playwrights and screenwriters to retell the story over and over.

Iris Theatre, now in their tenth season of summer open-air works in the grounds of the Actors’ Church, are the latest to retell Dumas’ classic in a tale befitting the times. Writer Daniel Winder ensures that, besides the central male roles, the women are clearly defined and three dimensional. Most notably, the villainous Milady de Winter narrates the tale in flashback, exposing us to the story to explain her motives as much as it does reveal her intentions. Ailsa Joy’s Milady is a wonderful creation in this incarnation: wickedly evil and willing to double cross everyone, but never lacking in motivation.

And yet she is not the most interesting female character. Nor are any of the myriad of characters played by Bethan Rose Young, from a series of hilariously interchangeable pub landladies to the Queen of France. No, that honour goes to Jenny Horsthuis’s D’Artagnan. Artfully flipping the incomer’s gender, Winder’s script takes elements from Dumas’s original – D’Artagnan’s paperwork being stolen from him as he rode to Paris to join the Musketeers – and crafts a solidly believable twist, with a character who is posing as a man to fulfil a life traditionally denied to a woman.

Horsthuis imbues D’Artagnan with enough deep-voiced gung-ho spirit to make her new friends’ obliviousness to her true identity utterly believable, and the prospect that a woman is capable of besting the Musketeers at their own game is a powerful and uplifting message to give to the family audience this show is geared towards.

Not that the men can’t hold their own: Albert de Jongh, Elliot Liburd and Matt Stubbs excel both as the eponymous Musketeers and sundry other important roles, from Liburd’s devilish Cardinal Richelieu to de Jongh’s foppish Lord Buckingham. As other characters, they provide laughs and whimsy: as the swashbuckling trio, they provide camaraderie and derring-do as befits the characters’ reputations.

Rounding out the cast, Stephan Boyce delights in breaking the fourth wall as he corrals the promenading audience, sneaking in modern-day anachronisms and subverting the heightened melodrama with knowing winks of comedy.

That is a balance of comedy and drama that the whole production excels at providing. There have been many retellings of The Three Musketeers through the ages: few have been as enjoyable as this.

Runs until 2 September 2018 | Image: 

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A swashbuckling retelling

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