06 June 2007

The Three Musketeers – Northern Ballet Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, Tuesday 5th June

I LOVED the bit where Tom’s tabard rolls up like a roller blind and the loose end whacks him under the chin several times….. oh no, that’s something quite different. Maybe it was the bit where the little grey French mouse waves his sword and says “Bonjour, Monsieur Pusseeycat!”. Oh no, that wasn’t in it either. What a shame.

This was far, far better than NBT’s risible “Peter Pan” from a couple of years back, but bears all the same hallmarks of an expensive, worthy flop. At least we were spared a Japanese chap called “Preter Pran” asking us to “crap your hands if you bereave in fairlys” – but it seems impossible to keep these dancers fully silent on stage. Ballet doesn’t need whooping and wailing and screaming, guys! And frankly, last night I saw very little to whoop about. In fact, for the first 10 minutes, I saw very little – this production is so underlit as to make much of it, including the set-up of the vastly complicated plot, practically incomprehensible, particularly as much of the plot turns on enormous numbers of individuals putting on long hooded cloaks and creeping/running/dancing across the stage in the gloom. Maybe they were doing “The Three Musketeers Go Down The Mines” and I never noticed. The lighting man seemed to be suffering from “Gobo-mania” (a gobo is a sort of stage light that casts a pattern on the stage or backdrop) and was using his full stock, trying out all the vile colour combinations that he’d not been able to use on other productions. Ever. He was obviously given a nudge by someone after 10 minutes or so, because then some decent lighting was used, but you can’t keep a good gobo down and by the end, they were all back again

Bad lighting doesn’t help either when two of your principals – The Queen of France and Constance, the washerwoman’s spunky daughter – are exactly the same height and build, have exactly the same hairdo and are wearing practically the same costume for much of the evening. Several times I confused the two and wondered “What on earth is the Queen of France doing waving scissors around and climbing out of windows?”. Neither does it help for D’Artagnan’s father to skip the make-up so that he looks of an age with his son – during the scene when they were rolling around half-naked with each other I wondered whether this was a gay subplot to the story I hadn’t heard of before. When I worked out what was going on, I thought “Well, if my dad looked like that I’d be sorry to leave home as well”. The corps of Jolly Washerwomen were obviously suffering from the same mystery illness as the peasants from the dreadful West End musical of “Martin Guerre” some years ago – one which brings permanent cleanliness, scrubbed faces and not a hair out of place. The woman playing the evil Milady (oh, wassname’s got red hair, she can be the evil one) prowled about the stage mugging like Madame Thenardier on speed, and in fact the final scene at the ball when Milady is scrabbling round the ballroom, chasing several identical jewellery cases, none of which prove to hold the stolen necklace, reminded me very much of both the scene in Les Mis when the Thenardiers are caught stealing the cutlery and the opening sequence of “Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom”. The chap playing the thankless part of Richelieu had nothing to do but stalk around the stage like an animated ironing board draped in bri-nylon crimson robes. No characterisation (and basically no role either, poor bugger). The Washerwoman, Madame de Brillopad or something, wasn’t even fat – and it’s a narrative necessity that “Comedy Washerwomen Should Always Be Fat”. Did the Director never read “The Wind in the Willows”, for pete’s sake?

The Three Musketeers themselves, usually known as Athos, Porthos and Aramis, would better have been named Arsehole (the thick one), Port-hole (the fat one) and Hi-Karate (the Japanese one) as this is how they were portrayed. Some nice characterisation but mere swagger does not a Musketeer make, chaps. There was also some excellent stage fighting but was ALWAYS preceded by all four standing in a half circle with one arm raised behind their back like a scorpion tail and the tips of their rapiers touching in the classic “All for one….” “and one for All!” stance, which got a bit tedious by the ninth time.

Scenery was generally good (where it could be seen) – there were a couple of lovely sets representing Versailles in all its rococo-mirrored-chocolate-boxishness – but a lot of them seem to have been created using scaled-up versions of painting-by-numbers kits. There was one lovely moment when, intending to exit through the secret door in the Queen’s panelled boudoir, Constance picks the wrong section of the wall and walks right into it (shame that there weren’t two doors, one of which opened into a broom-cupboard).

As to narrative thrust, I felt that many of the initial scenes, and a good many of the later ones, were unnecessarily scamped in order to make time for long pas des deux – Constance and D’Artagnan had THREE, for goodness’ sake. There were also far too many “scenes” which consisted of mysterious cloaked people just scampering across the stage. The scene in which “A Room in England” was indicated by the Union Jack waving proudly from the back of a galleon had me giggling because the Union Jack didn’t come into being until at least 300 years after this period – if not longer. By the time the Bloody Queen of France had got her Bloody Necklace back I had long ceased to care who ended up with the Damn Thing. I got the impression that most of the very thin audience felt the same way. What the whole thing needed was an anvil, a collapsing ironing board, accordions going Waa waaa waaaa waaaaaaaa…..and a fat black woman shouting “Thamas! Thamas!” while trying to hit Jerry with a Kentucky mop. That's All, Folks!
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