Saturday 4 August 2018

The 3 Musketeers - Theatre Review

What: The 3 Musketeers
When: 1 - 11 August 2018
Where: Bluestone Church Arts Space
Adapted and Directed by: Natasha Broadstock
Performed by: Lore Burns, Craig Cremin, Joti Gore, Victoria Haslam, Scott Jackson, James Malcher, Angelique Malcolm,  and Lucy Norton
Costumes by: Romy Sweetnam
Lighting by: John Collopy
Sound by: Patrick Slee

Craig Cremin - photo by Michael Foxington
The 3 Musketeers is a swashbuckling night of swagger and swank taking place at the Bluestone Church Arts Space in Footscray. A stage adaptation of the epic novel by Alexandre Dumas, the show sets out to take the chill out of winter with galloping sword fights, gorgeous gowns, and gallant knights of yore.

The story of The 3 Musketeers - Dumas' musketeers that is - is the story of young D'Artagnan who sets out to join the King's Guard and manages to bumble everything. In spite of himself, and with the burning desire to right wrongs and save the world, he hooks up with three real Musketeers. Together, over the course of 67 chapters, they manage to right wrongs, seek revenge and save the world... well France, at least.

A 'Boys Own' adventure, it is a tale of camaraderie, love, loss, revenge and justice. The men are all lusty, the woman are all luscious, and the nobles are all lost souls. It is a tale of loyalty, despair, and coming into one's manhood.

Unfortunately, Broadstock's adaptation never reaches these heights although there are a lot of fun sword fights and great costumes. Sweetnam really does all the heavy lifting to set this play up and keep us watching. Her textured, layered, deconstructions give us all the glory of the French 17th century court whilst also bringing us into the 21st century with a floordrobe chic which is totally portrait worthy.

Broadstock gives us the key events but she never really tells us the story of D'Artagnan (Burns). Partly because the script is unwieldy, and partly through some unfortunate casting choices. Before I go any further I should mention on the night I attended Gore was ill and Broadstock stood in and played Athos. Regardless of anything I say about the writing and directing, I will testify to the fact that she is a magnificent actor and I really didn't care that Gore wasn't there. I didn't feel I was left wanting anything more from her fabulously looming, broody Athos.

One of the big trumpets in the promotion of the play was that is was cast gender blind. I disagree. This cast was certainly gender bent, but if it was gender blind then the roles would have been cast based on acting skill and ability and they just weren't. Burns does not have the vocal ability to carry such a key lead role and in a space as live as the Bluestone is, her voice just got lost. I truly believe I did not hear at least 80% of her lines.

Luckily I realised quite early that I could rely on my memory of the 1993 film to keep me up with what was happening with a lot of help from Porthos (Jackson) who was narrating. And here's a hint for budding directors - do not put songs in your show if you don't have singers. Please!!!!!

Jackson is an actor with the energy, stage presence and ability to work an audience to rival Syd Brisbane. Anybody who knows theatre knows those are mighty big shoes to fill, but he does it. Jackson is also trained in stage combat and was the fight coordinator for this show. The sword fights themselves are fun and feisty and are part of what makes it worth sticking around for the whole two acts.

The play is way too long. It is in two acts and lasts around 2 and a half hours with interval. Not starting until 8pm, this makes is a very late winter night and the pay off at the end just isn't worth it. Whilst I am not a fan of the tyranny of dramatic action, and I quite like the narrator construct in this case because it harks back to a different, older story-telling aesthetic I really think Broadstock should have found time in the 17 years between writing and production to run the script past a dramaturg.

Directorially the play is a mish mash of styles, careening wildly between melodrama, farce, satire, film noir, greek tragedy and - most oddly - lyrical interpretive dance? When it all got too much for me (pretty much the whole second act) I just focused on the costumes and the fight scenes. I told you they were good didn't I?

Moving past the bad casting of D'Artagnan and the appalling interpretation of Constance (Malcher), there are some amazing performances in The 3 Musketeers. Cremin, who plays Milady, pretty much steals the show. In this instance, the gender bending works and Cremin reveals much about Milady which we may never have noticed had she been played by a woman. This is the power behind gender blind casting when you get it right. Similar praise can be placed on Norton as Rochefort, and Malcolm's Aramis is compelling as well.

Broadstock's idea of bringing classic yarns to the stage is a great concept for long, cold Melbourne winters but she needs to work with people who know how to craft a script. This was an incredibly ambitious project. I don't know many trained and experienced writers who would be willing to tackle Dumas on their own.

Despite what sounds like a slightly gloomy review, I admit I didn't ever feel like walking out. There is a lot going on and this production of The 3 Musketeers is definitely heavy on spectacle. As Aristotle tells us, spectacle can save a production. Between Cremin, Jackson, Broadstock (the actor), Norton, Malcolm, and Sweetnam The 3 Musketeers is quite watchable. Just bone up on the plot before you go...

2 Stars

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