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Haymarket - The Three Musketeers

5th December 2003 to 10th January 2004.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

It's all for fun... and fun for all

The Three Musketeers, at the Haymarket, Basingstoke, until January 10

Christmas shows fall into two categories: traditional or not pantomime and attempts to present something slightly different, appealing to those for whom audience participation is as appetising as cold turkey.

For the third year running I went to the Haymarket in Basingstoke where fun was promised in Shaun Prendergast's adaptation of the classic novel by Alexandra Dumas.

On a multi-level wooden set designed by Elroy Ashmore, the acting was anything but wooden as our eponymous heroes set about trying to thwart the evil Cardinal Richelieu in his efforts to overthrow the King of France.

Loosely based on historical facts, there was nothing remotely stuffy in this rollicking yarn laced with colourful costumes and pyrotechnics a-plenty.

Matthew Rixon's Athos, a fine swordsman (and very handy with a corkscrew, we were told), led the way, ably supported by Toby Gaffney as Porthos and the accordion-playing Aramis in the guise of Christopher Dickins, who was responsible for the original music.

Just like the proverbial bus, having waited half an hour for a song, two came along at pnce: the lilting Glass of Wine and the signature tune One For All And All For One as the Three Musketeers were joined by the dashing D'Artagnan, played by Oliver Boot, before embarking on their quest.

The script's rapier-like wit bore more than a passing resemblance to the best of Blackadder, especially in the hands of Alan Blyton, who played the comedy servant Planchet with aplomb. Tom Bevan also impressed as both Rochefort and De Treville, albeit the two characters were on opposing sides.

The 'duel' in the crown, however, was the imaginative stage fighting devised by Paul Benzing. Flashing blades were expected, but there was a range of weaponry on display as the characters came up with a variety of ways to stun an opponent, leading to several melodramatic deaths.

Even Phoebe Soteriades as the wicked seductress Milady de Winter was able to show her fencing skills during the exciting denouement.

Director Alasdair Ramsay, in his last Christmas production before leaving the Haymarket next spring, has served up a real cracker of a show that goes with a bang in more ways than one.


From The Times.

Three stars
This story by Alexandre Dumas is so daft it’s a wonder that Verdi never turned it into an opera. Starring roles for several tenors; a villainous Prince of the Church; sadistic husband betraying lovelorn wife; faithless servants; deaths of both heroines, one by poison, the other in a swordfight dressed as a man — what more does a librettist require? Every stage version of this hoary old tale twiddles with the details but the Cardinal is invariably nasty, King Louis XIII always a popinjay, and the actor playing D’Artagnan (here Oliver Boot) never takes a step when a stride will do. Boot strides well. He can’t persuade us that the hero’s frantic love at first sight is anything more than an author’s whim, but that is the rule of historical romance: every national crisis must have a man and woman sighing at the heart of it.

The duels are excellent and they break in on the action all the time. In fact, the duels are the action; everything else is either designed to lead up to an insult (which leads to a duel) or follows a defeat with a vow of revenge (another duel).

Shaun Prendergast’s adaptation is already peppered with ad libs, and I suspect these will be scattered more liberally as the run continues; Alasdair Ramsay’s cast appears fully aware that the twists of plot are arbitrary and the characters paper-thin. So there is an air of theatrical fakery. Coconut shells are biffed whenever a horse takes off, and play a nervous riff when a horse-butcher hoves into view. Trapdoors invariably bang down on someone’s head below.

This presents problems when the plot darkens. We can smile at the deaths of nameless guards and servants but when D’Artagnan’s lady-love expires the story should accommodate sorrow. I dare say the original novel manages this, since I doubt if there’s a laugh in it, but this production and, to be fair, every other I’ve witnessed, pauses for a moment and then returns to the rough and tumble.

This makes the first half the more successful. Elroy Ashmore’s design of wooden beams, steps and platforms provides for action on many levels. The cross-cutting between Milady’s seduction of Buckingham in Whitehall and a storm in the Channel is ingenious, and if at times the story becomes silly, at least it isn’t Cyrano de Bergerac.