Theatre review: The Three Musketeers

Our theatre reviewer, Hannah Hobson, shares her thoughts on The Three Musketeers at Hull Truck Theatre.

Image: Mark Dawson Photography

If you’re looking for a way to entertain the whole family this bank holiday weekend, there can’t be many theatrical capers better than Le Navet Bete’s The Three Musketeers. Subtitled ‘A Comedy Adventure’, this production perfectly captures the swashbuckling spirit of Alexander Dumas’s novel while still providing many surprises along the way. This world of bicycle steeds and dastardly disguises is not to be missed.

The format of the production is simple, that the gang of Le Navet Bete have brought their childhood hideaway to life to act out their favourite book for the audience. The set, designed by Ti Green, has the feel of being the best treehouse ever with trapdoors, fold-out sails and drop-down bars. The cast unpack their world from its hideaways and ladders, adding a touch of true stage magic to the show. The framing device of the childhood gang adds a layer of levity to the production, of childish fun which allows bikes to become horses and makeshift tabards to become the uniform of the King’s musketeers. It also allows for some good old-fashioned slapstick humour, utilised at its very best.

The cast are a company in the truest sense, bouncing off one another from every direction, aiming to make each other laugh as much as the audience. Each actor plays multiple characters, working their way through more than forty characters between four and over a hundred costume changes. All are fantastic physical actors.

Matt Freeman, as the notorious Milady De Winter, among others, is an absolutely hysterical villain, poisoning and stabbing his way through the heroes with exquisite timing. Not only that but Freeman executes some of the best movement work I’ve seen in a long time, falling from high platforms or shimmying himself offstage while trying to appear unconscious.

Playing our hero, D’Artagnan, Al Dunn is a good old-fashioned hero, arguing his way into the right band of brothers. Dunn has also mastered the art of audience interaction – which done badly can be excruciating – as he encourages the crowd to applaud, quack and laugh along with the action.

We find another brilliantly scheming villain in Nick Bunt’s Cardinal Richelieu, but Bunt’s truly magical performances are in his array of fops and fools peopling the stage. Some of the production’s funniest moments are in a subtle change in his expression or an eager nodding of the head.

In the performance I saw, Abi Jones stepped into the show but I never would have guessed from her performance that she was an understudy. Jones’s drunk and sugar-fuelled Athos was compelling and her portrayal of the Duke of Buckingham utterly hilarious.

The piece is such a complete work of theatre that it is hard to imagine it having something as simple as a writer or director. In collaboration with the onstage company, John Nicholson has done both. It is a credit to just how good Nicholson’s work is that his touch is almost invisible. Fostered in the company and the show itself, there is a sense of spontaneity which gives the cast the freedom to pull the script this way and that, to fully play onstage, it is an absolute joy to watch. There is such ingenuity in the writing and direction, as well as Lea Anderson’s movement work, that just cracks open the wonder of theatre performance.

This is the most fun I’ve had in a theatre in a long time. Every element of this production is so exuberant and cheerful. It is a fantastic family show, accessible to all children older than eight, with plenty of jokes for the grownups too. For anyone who may have additional access needs, Le Navet Bete have provided a ‘visual story’ in PDF format, which flags up any moments that it may be helpful to know about in advance and gives a wealth of information to make the show as accessible as possible. This is available under ‘More Information’ and ‘Event Information’ on Hull Truck’s website. I defy anyone to watch this hilarious, heart-warming and hopeful production without howling with laughter.

[Hannah Hobson – Theatre reviewer]