The Three Musketeers
Adapted by Carl Miller from the novel by Alexandre Dumas
Performed by the Unicorn Ensemble
Carl Miller has done a skilful job in paring down this complex romance into a two hours plus interval stage piece, the more remarkably since he has made it possible for it to be performed with just the six actors of the theatre's ensemble company. The confidence with which these actors work together is evidence of the value of such a company and audiences, here at least, seem to be totally at ease with cross gender and cross colour casting.
Rosamunde Hutt's The Three Musketeers is packed with swashbuckling. The many vigorous sword fights, arranged by Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper Brown, like the politics of the French court and the religious conflict that form the background to the plot, place it firmly in the seventeenth century but Christopher Fauld's multilayered scaffold set of shining metal provides a blank background. Costumes and the language are decidedly modern, with a backward gesture to the mid twentieth century in the use of French chansons from the repertoire of Piaf and Brel. Jaunty caps, jeans tucked into boots, swords tucked into cummerbunds and poking out between the panels of a coat give a hint of period to the near contemporary.
From the very start the style of the production is established with a tableau of an execution on an upper level and then the three musketeers presented to us: Athos (Eric Nzaramba), Porthos (Samantha Adams) and Aramis (John Cockerill), while on the tier above we see D'Artagnan (Liam Lane) galloping in mime in hopes of becoming one of their confrères. Large plastic storage boxes, like costume skips, form the furniture and provide props and accessories as needed, trucking on and off under the control of the cast.
Everyone except Lane and Julie Hewlett as Milady is doubling - and even they may be, for the moment someone goes off stage they are likely to come on as someone else. As well as portly Porthos, Adams plays the Queen and Milady's servant, Cockerill is also Cardinal Richelieu and other roles, Nzaramba the Duke of Buckingham and more, while Amaka Okafor plays a singing hostess of an inn, D'Artagnan's beloved Constance (the audience gasped when she drank the poisoned wine Milady offered), and several more. And they manage all this without the slightest confusion as to whom they currently present.
Since the French characters are, of course, speaking English there is a delightful ploy of making the English all speak in French, or in English with a heavy French accent, which adds an extra layer of humour to the playing of the Duke of Buckingham, especially when, boasting of his attractiveness to the ladies he declares that 'duchesses throw themselves at me, and the occasional duke.'
There is a slightly sour note (it's the story, not the fault of the adaptation), in the harsh treatment of Milady. She may be one of the baddies but Hewlett gives her vulnerability and feeling, but Dumas obviously did not consider rehabilitation.
"One for all and all for one" is the motto of the Three Musketeers and this rollicking romp through a fustian classic depends for its success on the splendid way in which this company work together.
Until 8th May 2011
Reviewer: Howard Loxton