Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

The Three Musketeers

Daniel Winder
Iris Theatre
St Paul's Church, Covent Garden

Elliot Liburd as Porthos, Jenny Horsthuis as d'Artagnan, Bethan Rose Yound as Queen of France, Matt Stubbs as Athos and Albert de Jongh as Aramis Credit: Nick Rutter
Matt Stubbs as Athos Credit: Nick Rutter
Ailsa Joy as Milady de Winter, Albert de Jongh as Lord Buckingham and Stephan Boyce as Lord Winter Credit: Nick Rutter
The French Court with Albert de Jongh as Clown Credit: Nick Rutter
Ailsa Joy as Milady de Winter Credit: Nick Rutter

This summer, for their outdoor family show in the gardens of the Actors’ Church, Iris Theatre has turned not to a fairy tale or a traditional children’s story but to Alexander Dumas’s historical romance about a young Gascon who heads for Paris determined to become one of the King’s musketeers.

It is a story that has been freely adapted to many forms—opera, ballet, film and TV as well as theatre—and this version, scripted by Iris Artistic Director Daniel Winder, takes a free hand as it concentrates on the part of the plot around the Queen of France’s diamonds and gives particular prominence to Ails Joy’s villainous Milady de Winter.

The show’s chief innovation is that d’Artagnan, the young Gascon, is not a youth but a girl who has disguised herself as a boy in the hope of achieving her end. (Though Iris got pipped in this by Lancaster’s Duke’s Theatre whose promenade ‘gender-fluid’ version opened a month earlier.) A few twists to the story accommodate this, validating Jenny Horsthuis’s positive and punchy performance, and there were last minute rewrites when Albert de Jongh broke an ankle in a rehearsal accident just before the first preview. A cast and a crutch seem seem no hindrance to his especially energetic Aramis.

The result is an evening of swashbuckling fun that will please the whole family from hardened theatre-goers to first time youngsters, some of whom manage to get quite involved in the action: a situation beautifully handled by the cast.

Stephan Boyce steps forward first to announce that it is 1626 and then to lead everyone to besieged La Rochelle, where the Huguenot populace are facing the forces of Cardinal Richelieu. It is a complex situation with the English supporting fellow Protestant Huguenots and Richelieu (Matt Stubbs) effectively running France while Louis XIII (Elliot Liburd), father of the Sun King, gets on with enjoying himself, with the added complication of a liaison between the Queen (Bethan Rose Young) and English Lord Buckingham (Albert de Jongh).

Between the cannon fire, Milady attempts to explain things and decides to take us back three months when things were at peace and d’Artagnan setting out. Thus we can witness d’Artagnan’s first encounters with the Musketeers: Matt Stubbs’s proud Athos (blunt and straightforward—could the scheming Cardinal really be the same actor?), Elliot Liburd’s Portos, “a gilded fool” Musketeer Captain Treveille (Stephan Boyce) calls him, “but a brave one” (and so different from his Louis) and Aramis.

This company’s doubling is amazing, not just in their versatility (Stephan Boyce plays three other roles as well as comic servant Planchet who has such a rapport with the audience), actors go off in one corner of the gardens and moments later appear re-costumed and unrecognisable somewhere different. How do they get there? Theatre magic.

Though the plotting is complex, the story is simple to follow and the pleasure comes from the performance, which is engaging and sometimes dazzles with spectacle and swordsmanship (fight director Roger Bartlett). Director Paul-Ryan Carberry has staged it in set locations with seating for all rather than as continuous promenade and, like Winder’s adaptation, gives the production a light touch that keeps it bubbling.

What could be a very dark story is full of humour as well as excitement and in the second half moves easily from slapstick to high drama.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton