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The Three Musketeers
By Lizzie Loveridge
One for All and All for One
--- Motto of the Musketeers
This holiday season’s play at The Young Vic is The Three Musketeers, in a new version by the director Julian Webber who was at Soho Rep in NYC for eight years. It is essentially a light hearted production, not concentrating too hard on the politics, but making the most of the swordplay, which it does brilliantly. The raised stage in the form of a cross stretches out into the audience, so that four pairs of swordsmen can fight along the arms of the cross simultaneously. This makes for very exciting, swashbuckling theatre.
Set in 1625, the story, briefly, is that M’lady (Candida Benson), a spy with a criminal past, working for Cardinal Richelieu (David Bailie), tries to discredit the Queen of France, Anne of Austria (Candida Benson) by stealing her diamonds. D’Artagnan (Phil Rowson), a would-be musketeer comes to the rescue with his three musketeer friends, Porthos (Ralph Casson), Athos (Stuart Goodwin) and Aramis (Bruno Muñoz Rojas). D’Artagnan falls in love with his landlord’s wife, Constance (Ivy Omere).
The cast is a dozen strong with all taking more than one part but with clever disguises to make us think that the cast numbers twice that. For instance, the Cardinal’s guard are played with fencing masks over their face so that they cannot be identified, all in black, and looking a little like Ninjas. During the journey to England to recover the diamonds, our four heroes are picked off one by one, in ambushes, by the Cardinal’s men, now in Venetian bird masks and with feather trimmed hats. The costumes reflect the lace, wigs and feathers of the early seventeenth century. There is loud modern music and dramatic shifts of lighting, all adding to the melodrama. The set has a walkway with ladders and ropes and a rope net, appropriate for this all action play. At one point, Constance is tied up and suspended high above the stage. By contrast, chandeliers descend from on high to give us an impression of the palace ballroom scene. Anything M’lady needs, like a sword, appears from a trapdoor in the stage where smoke and red light swirl beneath adding to her devilish image.
The swordplay is outstanding from Fight Director Renny Krupinski, as all the cast have acquired the skills, duelling with jumps and exhibitions of real panache, often on the cross walkways which are only three feet wide in places. The director/adapter has given us some laughs, a lot of tongue in cheek, even a funeral where the “Dies Ire” is sung to the words, He’s Dead, We’re Sad, Very Sad”. The first half is not as exciting as the second, but do not leave at the interval because the pace speeds up to a great, swaggering finish you will not want to miss.
Candida Benson does well switching from red to white wig and costume to make us believe that she is both the fiendish M’lady de Winter and the neglected, friendless Queen. Rowson’s D’Artagnan is played with a northern accent to accentuate his provincial Gascogne roots and he has the right kind of boyish air. David Bailie’s Cardinal has a sinister bearing with his long black leather coat under the red Cardinal’s gown. I liked Graham O’Mara’s performance as the ineffectual and vague King of France, Louis XIII.
Some of the language is quite challenging and I would think that it is more suited to the over ten year olds than the party of primary schoolchildren there on opening night. The programme is loaded with historical information as to the “real life” existence of the many characters. All credit to the Young Vic and Julian Webber for an exciting production that parents can enjoy as much as their children.