The Three Musketeers: A New Musical
Music by George Stiles; book by Peter Raby with Francis Matthews; lyrics by Paul Leigh
Rose Theatre, Kingston, Surrey
Master of the musical genre, George Stiles has created a tuneful and eclectic score, some of it sung through, for this faithful but finally underwhelming adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas tale of love, intrigue and derring-do around the French court in 1625, The Three Musketeers.
Francis Matthews' brilliant staging places the action on a two level setting of timber baulks, plus hazardous ladder and rope work, designed by Simon Higlett to fill the wide open Rose Theatre space in both directions. And there is an effective lighting plot by Tim Mitchell that accurately focuses our attention on the exact point of action at any one time.
Most unexpected is a blue moonlit settting for what must surely be the First Tango in Paris, lending tone to the covert carryings-on between CJ Johnsons glamorous Milady and the Cardinals men. But in plot terms the precise nature of their devilry is not fullly established, while the Cardinal remains a colourful background figure with hardly a word to say for himself, very odd!
The goodies, the Three Musketeers and their Gascony new recruit DArtagnan, played with boundless energy and cocky charm by Michael Pickering, are in support of the hapless Royal party. Their sweet and lovely go-between is Kaisa Hammarlunds romantic blonde Constance who curiously combines domestic drudgery at the Pine Cone Inn with her official post as Lady in Waiting to the Queen.
She and DArtagnan discover a bond of attraction that brings two splendidly passionate seduction numbers, later underscored by a solemn musical set-piece for Paul Thornleys Athos, a dominating figure, who warns his young friend about the hazards of falling in love with fair-haired women.
Good work comes from Hal Fowler as Porthos, Matt Rawle as Aramis and Marcello Walton as the Duke of Buckingham - and indeed the whole cast - in some splendidly choreographed sword play by Malcolm Ranson. But as far as one can tell, beyond a bruise or two, the body count is usually nil on both sides of the quarrel.
Combining complex plot with songs, marches, dances and sustained choruses has made for a running time close to two hours fifty and there were several moments in the perfornance when all the youngsters in the audience started fidgeting.
But for older kids the Rose show is a good choice for family entertainment which, according to the current publicity, has a fair prospect of transfer to the West End in due course.
Reviewer: John Thaxter