The Three Musketeers
St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden
Reviewed – 8th August 2018
“the rip-roaring finale in the church brought the audience to its feet in an explosion of cheers and applause”
This is Iris Theatre’s 10th season in the gardens of St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden. They produce two shows over the course of the summer – a Shakespeare and a family show – and this year’s swashbuckling adventure from 17th century France is a perfect confection for a family night out in London on a summer’s evening. The action takes place in three different playing arenas in the gardens themselves, and also moves into the church. Although moving between locations couldn’t help but slow things down a bit, the delight of the different mise-en-scènes more than made up for it, and the rip-roaring finale in the church brought the audience to its feet in an explosion of cheers and applause.
Dumas’ original novel is a behemoth of a book, and credit must go to Daniel Winder, Iris Theatre’s Artistic Director, for distilling it into a largely comprehensible two hour play. The younger children in the audience would certainly have found elements of the story confusing, in particular differentiating between the the national conflict – England vs France – and the French religious conflict – Catholic vs Huguenot – but the pursuit of the Queen’s diamonds was a good thread for them to follow, with excellent visual cues to help them through the more labyrinthine plot developments. Paul-Ryan Carberry’s sure-handed direction steered a steady course throughout, using elements of slapstick and pantomime with a deft touch to balance the darker themes and more baroque plot twists. In addition, Winder’s decision to turn d’Artagnan into a woman worked brilliantly, and the young female musketeer was a fantastic counterpoint to the magnificently malevolent Milady, played with immense hauteur and brio by Ailsa Joy.
Working in the open air in the middle of Central London is immensely challenging for an actor, and the predominantly young cast attacked the task with relish, and they were aided too by Adam Welsh’s excellent sound design. Inevitably, many of the performances were painted with pretty broad strokes – open air theatre is rarely the place to go for subtlety and nuance – but there was a terrific ensemble spirit, and some excellent multi-role work too, particularly from the charismatic Stephan Boyce (Planchet/Treville/Rochefort/Lord Winter) and the splendidly entertaining Elliot Liburd (Porthos/King of France).
Finally, special mention must go to Roger Bartlett, the production’s fight director. No evening spent in the company of the musketeers would be complete without some serious sword play, and Iris Theatre did not disappoint in this regard. There is something rather wonderful about hearing the church clock striking and seeing the garden’s white roses glowing in the dusk, whilst watching a mighty clash of swords, and knowing that 21st century London nightlife continues all around. A unique treat; there to be savoured.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by Nick Rutter
The Three Musketeers
St Paul’s Church until 2nd September