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A CurtainUp London Review
The Three Musketeers
Francis Matthews as director and co-author of the book had me puzzled until I realised he is the former Matthew Francis, responsible for so many of those great Christmas productions at Greenwich Theatre when my children were relatively small. I can remember a spectacular Prisoner of Zenda with Mark Lockyer and David Haig, and an exciting but grisly version of A Tale of Two Cities where the guillotined aristocratic heads twirled on a shelf. Now, as Francis Matthews, his real name released by the former actor of that name, he brings us an exciting all family entertainment. His collaborator is the musician George Stiles, composer of Honk! and Just So amongst others; also the recently announced new West End musical, Betty Blue Eyes based on Alan Bennett's A Private Function which goes into the Novello for Cameron Mackintosh in March 2011.
The Dumas story lends itself to a musical with the well known country squire D'Artagnan (Michael Pickering) leaving his home in Gascony in provincial France for Paris to fulfil his ambition to be one of the King's Musketeers. He meets three of the famous musketeers gone to seed and rather the worse for wear from alcohol in the Pine Cone Inn and ends up agreeing to fight all three at different times in a duel. There's Athos (Paul Thornley) once the Comte de la Fère until an unscrupulous woman brought him disgrace, the handsome Aramis (Matt Rawle) destined for the priesthood until a penchant for ladies ruled that career out, and the rotund, genial, gourmand Porthos (Hal Fowler). Dumas based his story on these real life seventeenth century characters.
The first act revolves round the intrigue of the Queen's (Kirsty Hoiles) diamond necklace and the Duke of Buckingham (Marcello Walton), a conspiracy dreamed up by the mysterious Milady (CJ Johnson) in the pay of the Cardinal (Christopher D Hunt) and his lieutenant Rochefort (Mark Meadows). The second act sees a war being fought; the love story between D'Artagnan and the innkeeper's seamstress wife Constance (Kaisa Hammarlund); D'Artagnan's eventual admission to the Musketeeers, as well as Athos's backstory.
The sword fighting is some of the best you will see on stage and the Rose's wide thrust stage allows for this to be fully enacted. Ropes, ladders and wooden towers lend differing levels on Simon Higlett's set on which to stage the action. Excellent too is the choreography taking the famous Les Mis marching on the spot and developing it to form a contingent marching to Paris or riding to war. There is a variation of the Argentine Tango, full of stylish and extravagant dance moves. One original stamping dance has the musketeers crossing themselves and then miming a noose round their necks the prospect if they fail. The "Paris by Night" number is dark and full of crime and mystery.
I liked Paul Leigh's lyrics (the programme tells us he studied under Stephen Sondheim) but I think I would need to hear some of the tunes again for them to be distinctly memorable but that's not unusual and not attributable to any lack of musicality in the compositions. A seven person band plays the live music high above the stage. Soft romantic ballad duets are sung between Constance and D'Artagnan. There is plenty of comedy not least when taunted by an enemy for his large girth, Porthos turns the tables on his tormentor and says every time he makes love to that man's wife, she gives him a small cake! Then there is the bawdy, "Tell Madam I have a baguette for her oven!"
This is an outstanding cast that has been assembled in Kingston and the acting is as excellent as the singing voices. I loved Paul Thornley's strong and powerful singing voice as Athos and it is impossible to take your eyes off Matt Rawle whenever he is onstage. I'd sign him up to advertise the eponymous aftershave now! The publicity mentions that this is prior to the West End and the show certainly is deserving of a wider audience.
You won't find more exciting and skilled sword play in the theatre since the demise of Zorro. The Three Musketeers is sure to please the whole family!
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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