Thursday, 13 December 2012

The Three Musketeers - review

Written by: Sophie Talbot (@sophietalbot_91)

Rosemary Branch Theatre, London

As d’Artagnan and Athos sword fight awkwardly in front of a white cloth adorned with pegs and pants, you may worry you’re watching an am-dram village hall-type performance. Thankfully, the cloth is whipped down unveiling a distinctive, light-hearted, talent-filled production by Charles Court Opera, aptly coined a ‘boutique panto’.   

Photo: Bill Knight
 The quirky set includes placards inscribed with amusing half French, half English protests complimenting the company’s ‘off-piste’ style, (cleverly justifying the unaccomplished French accents of the overstated Musketeers) and depicting anarchic France. The adapted tale follows orphaned stable boy, D’Artagnan (Matthew Kellett) and the revelation that he is the rightful heir to the throne. The disbanded Musketeers reunite to aid friend D’artagnan defeat the villainous Cardinal (Kevin Jones) and retrieve his just place in the monarchy. The renowned novel is well-adapted for pantomime seamlessly including the conventional elements. However, the story-telling itself is far from swashbuckling. Whilst the intimate venue perhaps limits the inclusion of the visual wonder pantomime story-telling is famous for, the piece lacks inventive framing or adventurous narrative and at times the basic plot seems a little bland.

Photo: Bill Knight
The company pay homage to an array of panto traditions; cross-gendered roles (the Musketeers are females), villains speak in rhyme, audience participation.  The company commit to the form and through side-glances and tongue-in-cheek delivery they knowingly mock panto without undermining it, instead reinforcing the humour that forms its core. A highlight sees the cast hurling sweets at the audience; when people forget about the uptight, health and safety conscious world we live in, it’s evident the company provides two hours of high-spirited and carefree entertainment. The script is bursting with hilarious puns and sword related innuendos and in the close-knit venue you feel as if you’re laughing with the cast rather than at them.

Photo: Bill Knight
The company honour their operatic roots and consequently the first act numbers are a little unmemorable, a sacrifice to showcase the talent of the undeniably flawless vocals of the cast and impeccable musical accompaniment. The second act welcomes more recognisable songs including an uproarious recreation of Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart complete with blinding white light and red cloth – sung by Mother Superior (John Savournin) – matching the spirit of the company. Savourin (also writer and director) is undoubtedly the star of the show as the nun who raised d’Artagnan. His understated, Dame-style performance oozes dry wit and sharp improvised commentary; he is the embodiment of the side-splitting essence of panto.

Whilst the story telling lacks inspiration and aspects of the production waver from the quality vocals, the talented company strip away spectacle and captivate the silly and carefree humour at the heart of pantomime. Charles Court Opera offers a riotous production which is suitably compatible with its exclusively adult audience and pub-theatre atmosphere. The Three Musketeers may not be ‘one for all’ but it will indisputably enliven the spirits of many.

This production runs until 9 January 2013.

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