Thrilling in delivery, poignant in message and imaginative in production: The Three Musketeers is an experience bordering on magical. Although they are widely familiar characters, the Musketeers belong to a story much less known. The Iris Theatre’s production impresses with an innovative adventure that revitalises a lost narrative.

Framed by the intriguing narrative presence, and character, of Milady de Winter (Alisa Joy), The Three Musketeers immediately promises to be a transgressive performance. Writer Daniel Winder toys with Alexandre Dumas’ epic tale to make an exciting re-genderisation; d’Artagnan (Jenny Horsthuis) is a woman in disguise. Against the landscape of 17th century France, Milady and d’Artagnan turn to deception for survival, exposing the lengths women will go to claim agency for themselves in a repressive environment. This is the play at its core: strong female characters within a man’s world. Unfortunately, the play’s intention is not always clear; blurring a commentary on gendered tensions with the premise of a family show, and at moments losing its bite at being either. Assistant Director Bob Ellis claims that this is “a story the audience want to see, and a message people want to hear.” Where perhaps this message is entangled in its intention, visually The Three Musketeers excels.

St Paul’s Church provides an enchanting refuge from bustling Convent Garden. Although heard at times, the tourists outside feel another world away. The whimsical setting, complete with park benches, trees, lampposts and of course, the church itself – looming, atmospheric and alight with theatre – makes palpable the cliché, like stepping in to a book. A story in which the audience are not passive onlookers but participants, accompanying the characters on their literal journey. The set designers have created a stage for the audience to exist alongside the actors. This unique environment perfectly facilitates audience interaction – during laugh-out-loud comedic moments and when the characters battle in the audience, for example. It is a versatile setting for a versatile play, shifting from slapstick to suspense and culminating in a gripping, smoke-filled scene that takes place in the church.

With the majority doubling up as other characters, the small cast command the space, and further the unique relationship between actor and audience The Three Musketeers sets up. Much like Joy’s captivating character Milady, ambiguous villainy, romance, and uncertainty define the story, yet take away the setting and the play might just lose its creativity. Experienced as a piece of theatre belonging to, and playing with, these surroundings, it feels like stumbling upon a little magic in a modern city: stage and performance coalescing in wonderful intimacy.

The Three Musketeers is playing at St Paul’s Church until 2 September 2018. For more information and tickets, click here.

Photo: Nick Rutter.