Cyphers’ production of The Three Musketeers sets itself the ambitious task of reducing the whole of Alexander Dumas’ dense and action-driven story into a comedy stage production, using just four actors to play ten times that number of parts. The construction of the drama is brought into the action – the stage is kept bare, with few props and trunks laid out around it. Furthermore, the lights are kept on over the audience, reminding us that our own imaginations form a crucial part of the storytelling.
Caitlin Abbott’s effective and simple costume and stage design allows for the swift transformations between characters and scenes which forms the backbone of the ‘back to basics’ storytelling mode of the company. However, all of this provides a great challenge for the four actors on stage who are tasked with creating an entire world and all the characters in it. It is for this reason that the development of the central characters is weak at points. It is undoubtedly a problem that female characters in the production are reduced to stock figures in a story dominated by men and told from a male perspective. Will Holyhead playing D’Artignan has a much easier task than Paul Anthoney, Howard Horner and Marcus Bazley playing the rest of the cast together. Ultimately, the necessity for the actors to multi-role within the same scene does make the storyline difficult to follow throughout.
The principal problem is in the handling of the narrative, which contained too much detail and obscured the central arc of the story. New characters are introduced into the story for brief appearances and provide details which only became relevant much later on. On top of this, characters donning disguises for the purposes of trickery is one level of artifice too many. However, Marcus Bazley’s playing of both male and female characters displays his skills as much more than a comic actor. The creation of character using a variety of voices and accents is impressive from Paul Anthoney and Marcus Bazley, and more of this characterisation could have helped bring variety to the walk-on characters that could not be conveyed through costume, props, or body.
The production utilises a wide range of storytelling techniques, including puppetry, song, dance, and sound effects. There are some very strong moments within all this, including a particularly funny and memorable scene with D’Artignan travelling by horse and carriage, and on a boat across the sea. The challenge of these scenes bring out the most creative side of the production team to utilise sound and physical choreography to convey meaning in place of direct narration. However, the production is in need of greater stylistic consistency. The onstage narrative, while certainly making the story easier to follow, could have been better integrated into the action and allowed the story to progress more smoothly.
The play contains within itself a simple and thrilling story that is obscured by an overly complicated narrative. It resulted in a production that has some funny and clever storytelling moments, but which are not lively or reactive enough throughout. The stronger aspects of this production might have shone more plainly in a shorter, sharper version of the same idea. Though the problems in the production are structural ones, The Three Musketeers remains a fun and watchable comedy.
The Three Musketeers is on at The Pleasance Theatre until December 1.