Only in the UK would you go to see an open air performance in July wearing a winter coat, gloves, a blanket and carrying an Umbrella!! Despite this I was very much looking forward to seeing my second production by local, Guildford based group, The Pranksters. Earlier in the year I had the pleasure of catching “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” at the Electric Theatre and was very impressed so, even taking into account the erratic weather, I was really excited to see their Summer play “The Three Musketeers”.
Set simply with just three small stages and various free-standing props (and of course Guildford Castle looming large in the background) we were introduced to a small group of Actors/Circus performers who were all waiting for a group of French actors to arrive and perform the Alexandre Dumas classic. We are informed that apparently these actors are delayed, due to the Eurotunnel, so we would have to watch the circus performers act out the tale instead. They each then undertake various roles, with most actors playing more than one part.
A brief overview of the story – D’Artagnan (Tony Carpenter) travels to Paris to join the Musketeers. On the way, he encounters and alienates de Rochefort (Andy Fairweather), one of Cardinal Richelieu’s (Mike Willoughby) spies. After entering Paris and speaking with Monsieur de Treville (Roger Posthumus), he suffers misadventure and is challenged to a duel by each of three musketeers; Athos (Keith Spouncer), Aramis (Steve Griffin) and Porthos (Mark Ashdown). Attacked by the Cardinal’s guards, the four unite and escape.
D’Artagnan then meets and falls in love with Constance Bonacieux (Emily Lawrence), who is the wife of D’Artagnan’s landlord and an aide to one of the Queen’s closest advisors. They help the French queen (Allicia Buckles) give a particular piece of jewellery to her paramour, the Duke of Buckingham (Kitty-May McCormick). The Cardinal learns of this and coaxes the French king (Ian Creese) to hold a ball where the queen must wear the jewellery; its absence will reveal her infidelity. D’Artagnan and his three companions then have to try and retrieve the jewellery from England before King Louis becomes aware. In between all of this are several plots to stop this happening but good prevails and those who deserve to die, do and those don’t…….don’t! (I did say it was brief)
There were some delightful performances in this production and although I wish I could talk about all of the actors, I will mention those who stood out to me – all three Musketeers Keith Spouncer, Steve Griffin and Mark Ashdown were very good but special mention must go to Steve Griffin for his portrayal of Aramis. He is a joy to watch (as a side note I loved him in Cuckoo and think I am becoming a fan). His presence is such that you can’t help but watch him and he has an ardent tone to his voice which makes you sit up and listen, he’s clearly a self-assured and accomplished performer.
D’Artagnan was played by Tony Carpenter who also gave a sterling performance; lithe and limber and with energetic fervour he dashed about the stage advertising his need to be a Musketeer. He has a natural and rich clarity to his voice which suited the young swordsman. He demonstrated D’Artagnan’s youth by leaping about the stage – there was a moment where I was slightly concerned when he jumped out of the window and the stool he was jumping from wobbled and fell, I had visions of him falling backwards, but he didn’t and I could start breathing again without worry.
Kitty-May McCormick ‘s portrayal of the Duke of Buckingham was lovely. It’s not easy to turn a blind eye to the fact that a woman is playing a man (unless its panto) but because of the way she held her posture and lowered her voice you forgot and enjoyed the performance. She also played the part of the Inn Keepers Daughter extremely well showing much “girliness”, which goes to show she is a versatile actress.
Some of the smaller roles, for me, were the most memorable; JP Judson had me laughing as the Gaoler – very entertaining, almost Python-esque! However, special mention must go to Rob Greaves as Planchet, he was hilarious and had me in stitches from start to finish – right down to the great facial expressions he pulled. He had impeccable comic timing and should seriously consider a career as a farcical actor.
Despite the audience being small (I suspect due to the “delightful” British Summer weather) everyone in attendance thoroughly enjoyed this production, especially the lady in front of me who insisted on cheering every time she heard “All for one and one for all” – it was most amusing. It’s refreshing to see a show put on with a simple set, in an outdoor setting and done so well. I especially liked the touch of it being played out by “actors” thus giving it a very different feel. Their website stated there would be a carnival atmosphere and this was demonstrated in the interval by having the “actors” interacting with the audience as Tarot or Palm readers – it was so much nicer than sitting in the cold for 15 minutes waiting for the second half to commence.
If I had one very, very tiny criticism it would be that a little music during scene changes wouldn’t have gone amiss, but like I said that is me being very picky. It was otherwise a lovely evening and a great show – if you can get down to Guildford Castle today or tomorrow to watch this great show, the fab costumes and the well choreographed sword-fighting then it will be well worth it! Congratulations and well done to Director Jessica Nunn and her cast and crew of “The Three Musketeers”.