Review: The Three Musketeers at Saint Paul's Church Covent Garden

Written for Everything Theatre

Iris Theatre’s shows at Saint Paul’s Church in Covent Garden, also affectionately known as the Actor’s Church, are one of those fixtures of the summer theatre calendar. After a foray into darker realms last year with Macbeth, the company is back on familiar, family-friendly ground with The Three Musketeers.

This adaptation by artistic director Daniel Winder takes Dumas’ familiar tale and reimagines it with two amazing female characters front and centre. It might be called The Three Musketeers, but this really is the story of d’Artagnan and Milady de Winter, two women who are not content to play second fiddle in a world run by men. D’Artagnan goes the slightly more respectable route by dressing up as a man and trying to blag a place in the King’s elite guard, the Musketeers; Milady works as a spy at court for the Musketeers’ enemy, Cardinal Richelieu, and has zero qualms about disposing of anyone who gets in her way.

Aside from it being very enjoyable to watch two badass ladies kicking ass with swords, it’s also a pleasure to see a family show that has the sophistication to paint its characters in shades of grey, rather than making them into straightforward heroes or villains. Sure, our three musketeers are brave and loyal, but they are equally happy to seduce married women or drink for two weeks straight. Milady is a baddie with a backstory and even supporting characters like the flamboyant Lord Buckingham and the put-upon Queen are fleshed out.

The cast are the most hardworking bunch I’ve seen on stage so far this year, with most actors tackling a number of roles and accompanying quick changes. Stephan Boyce proves himself the most versatile, tackling his four characters with gusto and the occasional comedy accent. Our titular threesome is a mostly likeable bunch in the hands of Matt Stubbs, Elliot Liburd and Albert de Jongh. (De Jongh, who broke his ankle recently, delivers an impressive feat of fitness by still speeding around the garden in a cast tastefully wrapped up in brown pleather.) Bethan Rose Young is a likeable Queen, but really comes into her own as a succession of increasingly angry pub landladies, while Jenny Horsthuis impresses as the gutsy d’Artagnan. Nevertheless, I would consider the show comprehensively stolen by Ailsa Joy’s Milady, who brings a steely Uma-Thurman-in-Kill-Bill-esque quality to the play.

As far as immersive theatre goes, The Three Musketeers does not require that much involvement from the audience. (I would class the immersion level as ‘knee deep’.) Frequent efforts are made to include the younger audience members, although the proceedings get a bit too interactive in the second act, when Boyce is surrounded by children plucking at his costume as he tries to get through his scene. Aside from this minor mishap, the evening runs remarkably smoothly as we move around the garden and into the church in between scenes. This is Iris Theatre’s tenth year of putting on shows at Saint Paul’s and they have their audience wrangling down to a tee, so there is any of the dawdling you sometimes get when less experienced companies do a promenade performance.

In summary, The Three Musketeers makes for a fantastic evening out, either with or without kids. Iris Theatre have created a family-friendly show that’s engaging and fun, while also acknowledging that we live in complicated times. This updated classic truly is a tale for our age.

The Three Musketeers is playing at Saint Paul's Church Covent Garden until 2 September 2018