Bouncy, boisterous and brutal, this is children’s theatre at its best. Rosamunde Hutt’s lively production is full of swash and buckle, without glossing over the darker side of the story which gives it its heart. If you can ignore the slight incongruity of people in high-vis vests suddenly drawing their rapiers – which is easy given the impressive energy displayed by the whole ensemble – the fight scenes steal the show: fight directors Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown have done a fine job. Up, down and every which way around Christopher Fauld’s split-level set, the fights gallop about which the requisite spectacular rescues and near misses.
The whole production bursts with vim and humour, and it is impossible not to admire such a hard-working cast. Amaka Okafor, who excels as the fiery yet helpless Constance, notches up another five characters without breaking a sweat. Eric Nzaramba makes a smoulderingly evil Rochefort, a hard-drinking but sharp Athos and a hilariously vain Buckingham. Carl Miller’s adaptation pulls off a nice trick with the language barrier (the play moves between France and England) which I won’t spoil, but suffice to say that Nzaramba’s Buckingham gets the most laughs out of it. Liam Lane is a boyish and irrepressible D’Artagnan, who is forced to grow up during the course of the play. Lane charts this course with aplomb, from wide-eyed country boy to heart-broken wiser man, although his screeched “A woman weeps, a man revenges” doesn’t ring quite as true as when uttered by Nzaramba’s steely Athos.
Julie Hewlett has fun as Milady, stalking about the stage and bullying her servant (Samantha Adams). Along with Nzaramba’s scary Rochefort (“force is the only way”) and John Cockerill’s cold and merciless Cardinal, the audience is quickly caught up in the complex politics, plots and intrigues that surround the French court. There is a pleasing sense of knowing who we are supposed to be rooting for, and it gives the trio of baddies licence to enjoy being really jolly evil. Cockerill also plays a rather louche Aramis and adds some welcome comic relief as D’Artagnan’s quick-witted servant. Samantha Adams plays an amusingly smutty Porthos and a dignified Queen.
Some of this doubling, tripling and quadrupling gets a touch a confusing from time to time, but mostly it elicits admiration for the versatility and exuberance of the cast. The script also gets a little befuddled occasionally, with a odd mix of archaic syntax and modern language, but it was mostly clever and sharp. The songs were nicely chosen, and Okafor has a lovely voice. So, if there are children of your acquaintance who need something to do during the long Easter holidays, I suggest you hustle them off to the Unicorn for a cracking evening’s entertainment.
The Three Musketeers is playing at the Unicorn Theatre until 8th May. For more information and tickets, see the website here.