Swash swash, buckle buckle, ooh là là

8 Jul

Les Musketières du Trois

 

Blue Elephant, 06.07.16, with Eve

 

Alexandre Dumas’s hat-wearing, sword-wielding characters have been adapted and reimagined over and over again, but perhaps never quite like this. Rats with Wings have reworked the story as slapstick comedy in a Flowerpot-Men version of French consisting mostly of ‘Aha! mais oui! le boeuf!’ This style takes a little getting used to, but as the show progresses it becomes more and more clear that the format illuminates the inherent ridiculousness of the source material.

 

The show starts with two miserable starving peasants gabbling and howling to the tune of the overture to Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. (Disregarding the 300-odd year period disparity, the miserable starving peasants of fictional Paris can be transferred pretty easily from Hugo to Dumas and back again.) We are gradually introduced to a familiar cast of characters – the strutting young gallant, the devious villain, the beautiful femme fatale, the blushing ingénue. Juggled between a cast of five, the characters of The Three Musketeers come to life in elaborate grotesque papier maché masks and stripy pantaloons.

 

The gibberish dialogue and hysterical pace are a little dizzying to start with – I find myself gaping at the realization that they really are going to do that all the way through. Gradually, though, the strangeness of it turns into something genuinely delightful. The slapstick fight sequences are beautifully put together and energetically performed. The costumes are exquisitely silly. The chase sequence, in which one of the villains pursues the lovely Madame Bonacieux round and round a spread out blanket, is very funny. The protracted fight over the queen’s necklace (a globe of garlic on a chain, of course) is another highlight. The show even works in an allusion to Les Mis at the perfect moment.

 

The cast maintain a high energy level throughout, and manage some swift costume changes behind the curtains which are the only significant set. Mike Swain stands out as the pathetic and chronically unlucky Parisian pleb scrabbling for scraps in the street and later recruited by the sneering baddies for a battle against the musketeers.

 

Perhaps the most startling thing about this show is that it actually turns out to be a very faithful adaptation of Dumas. Where most adaptations are looking to find serious drama and noble heroes in this particularly romantic setting, Dumas’ original is more interested in satirising its vain, incompetent musketeers and the equally ineffective monarch they work for. The BBC’s leather-clad swashbucklers are all very well, but arguably their counterparts here, these posturing buffoons in their sparkly sunhats, are more in the spirit of the original.

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