TRCH Ranulph

The Three Musketeers

19 October 06 words: Dom Henry

A stupendous spectacle of swash, buckle and swordplay is to be had in Northern Ballet Theatre's adaptation of the popular tale

The Three Musketeers - Northern Ballet Theatre

A stupendous spectacle of swash, buckle and swordplay is to be had at the Theatre Royal this week, Northern Ballet Theatre have laid on another successful adaptation of a popular literary classic, this year with Dumas’ classic rapier toting romp.

No Germanic maidens giggling demurely amongst fairy tale villages here, cue D'Artagnan and the heroic trio for a riot of rumbustious antics, swordplay and earthy humour. The performance charges through the story at a whip cracking pace, blink and you’ll miss summarised bits, like D’Artagnan’s early life and journey to Paris. The pace slows to a canter as we get into the meat of the show, namely life in Paris and the intrigue and adventures that ensue therin, but often hits the gallop later on, literally at one point with an amusing take on film chases. Picture our heroes racing silhouetted against an evening sky, on sprung horses, battling the baddies.

The story itself is fairly complex, fortunately we know the jist of the plot, Queen Anne misbehaving behind her foppish kings back with serious consequences, as the story is common ground for most of us. Whether you recall the classic novels, the many films or, lest we forget, the childrens classic Dogtanian and the Three Muskahounds. So whether you’re thinking of Spaniels in hats and Sandy the horse or have celluloid figures in mind, the plot is a cracking one and with the exception of the condensed start and an alternative trip to England, they’ve managed to get it all in.

The Three Musketeers - Northern Ballet Theatre (c)A quick word on the swordplay and fight scenes, of which there were many! They were fighting with full size rapiers throughout and, blunted or no, demonstrated excellent skill and courage in their handling. Blended the clash of blades and close quarters fighting into the ballet, with up to ten swords on stage at once, was an inpressive feat, Errol Flynn would have been jealous!

The cast really revel in the character acting and slapstick, making for some fantastic moments. Memorable sequences including a tangle with winsome washer women, numerous boozy scenes in the tavern, the King of France dancing for his ladies pleasure in drag and an inspired scene of jewellery box mayhem at the climax. The performances themselves were all of very high standard, the energy and reach of the leads was inspiring and they handled the technically challenging movements well, in spite of the breakneck pace demanded.

There were some tender moments on offer as well including the duos with Buckingham and Queen Anne and D’Artagnan and Constance. I am reluctant to single out any particular performance as they were all so good, especially in their stunning costumes which could have been straight out of a big budget film.

Sadly, just into this show’s run the composer of the ballet’s score, Sir Malcolm Arnold passed away, aged 85. Yet in many ways the ballet is an apt celebration of his works as the score is drawn from many of his pieces, presenting a vibrant collection of dramatic film style numbers and symphonies, well placed to bolster the martial pomp and energy of the characters.

The overall effect was of a lusciously staged silent film, the kind 1920s filmmakers wish they could have produced if they had the cash. This has to be the most enjoyable ballet spectacle I’ve yet seen, another well earned feather in the Northern Ballet hat. I wonder what they’re planning for next year? The Count of Monte Cristo perhaps? we can but hope.

David Nixon's The Three Musketeers plays at Nottingham's Theatre Royal until Saturday 21st October 2006.

Northern Ballet website