The Three Musketeers, St Paul’s Church

by guest critic Meredith Jones Russell

It’s 1626 and a young d’Artagnan sets out for Paris, determined to join the King’s Musketeers. There’s just one problem – women aren’t allowed.

In Iris Theatre’s big-hearted and fun-filled adaptation of Dumas’s The Three Musketeers, d’Artagnan is reimagined as a plucky heroine. After the death of her father she disguises herself as a man and manages to befriend the legendary trio Athos, Porthos and Aramis. The four new friends are soon caught up in a deadly plot involving the Queen, twelve diamonds studs and the safety of the entire French state.

Directed by Paul-Ryan Carberry, this epic family production is a fun-packed outdoor promenade performance. In true Iris style, the audience is hustled on from scene to scene through different areas of the garden and interior of St Paul’s Church, come rain or shine (you’ll get a complimentary poncho if it’s raining, which admittedly hasn’t been too much of a risk this summer).

The sheer heart and enthusiasm of the performers and the piece radiates through it. It’s hard not to be swept up in the fun they seem to be having and the silliness of much of the plot.

As d’Artagnan and Milady respectively, Jenny Horsthuis and Ailsa Joy are convincing and poignant representations of two sides of the same coin – both women let down and limited by the circumstances they find themselves in. The message works and is surprisingly easily woven in to the story, even if the amount of other things going on can detract from its significance until the final set piece. Joy is a particularly enthralling narrator, and a standout among several strong performances in this ensemble piece.

Lovely moments of audience participation help keep the youngest members of the audience engaged and the adherence to much of the historical detail of the plot as well as some of the more grown-up jokes mean there’s plenty for the adults to take from this too.

However, Daniel Winder’s adaptation can become overly wordy and complicated. The story can be challenging to follow for the grown-ups, let alone the children. A bit more fun with movement and character development would have been welcome, even if it came at the expense of some of the lengthy plot exposition.

But the movement is brilliant. There are spectacular fencing bouts choreographed by Roger Bartlett that up the pace and excitement, especially when swords are charging in inches from the audience’s faces. Albert De Jongh as Aramis is particularly impressive, not only fulfilling a number of roles but carrying them out with a broken leg, an injury sustained in rehearsal which is cleverly explained away in last minute additions to the script.

While the adaptation could do with a bit of editing, more cheer and less chat, the heart and soul of the production can’t be faulted. A rip-roaring, swashbuckling, feminist historical romp the whole family can enjoy, especially in a heatwave.

The Three Musketeers runs until 2 September.

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