Sunday, 2 June 2013

The Three Musketeers promise but hardly deliver

The Three Musketeers
Stratford Festival
Written by Peter Raby
Adapted from the Alexandre Dumas novel
Directed by Miles Potter
Festival Theatre
Runs until October 19
Approximate running time: 2 hours and 55 minutes (with one 20-minute interval)
Tickets: 1-800-567-1600 or online 
Review by Geoff Dale : an Oxford County theatre reviewer and freelance writer/photographer.

The opening sequence featuring some wonderful no-holds-barred swordplay between a boisterous young D’Artagnan (Luke Humphrey) and his well-skilled father (played by Wayne Best) gives one the impression this could be a swashbuckler for the ages.

Sadly, such is not the case.
The story proceeds at an often tedious pace, revealing this as a production that could have been great but rapidly becomes victim to some genuinely off-putting performances, snail-like delivery of action sequences and unnecessary comic banter between the principles, much of it unfunny and uninspired.

That’s a shame because the four leads are up to the task of providing the feeling of camaraderie essential in fuelling the now famous motto “all for one and one for all”. 

Humphrey brings youthful swagger to his D’Artagnan. A well-padded Jonathan Goad is well cast as the fun-seeking Porthos. Graham Abbey is a thoughtful Athos, while Mike Shara handles Aramis’ shifts from his penchant for rabble-rousing to his desire to add substance to his life through religion, with ease.

Given the fact that the quartet is so well-suited to their respective characters and Alexandre Dumas’ text provides ample opportunities to provide excitement and non-stop action, you’d thought playwright Peter Raby and director Miles Potter would have had enough literary ammunition to figuratively explode onto the stage.

It doesn’t happen because there’s far too much humorous chit-chat and far too little of the swordplay and leaping from scene-to-scene that made the first scene such an exciting beginning.

How can one miss with the exploits of D’Artagnan and his three new-found friends in the compelling and complex court of the devious Cardinal Richelieu (Steven Sutcliffe), his chief henchman The Comte de Rochefort (Michael Blake) and the devious Milady de Winter (Deborah Hay)?

Well, therein lies another one major problem for the production. Sutcliffe’s Richelieu is an unqualified bore, barely able to serve up even the minimal required taste of evil. He’s simply reading the lines and rarely with any discernible emotion. He should have been stirring up the true hatred one normally feels for an evil villain of the Cardinal’s ilk. Instead you’re left contemplating a rather ho-hum realization of the man.

Blake, while an imposing figure, offers far-too few samples of The Comte de Rochefort’s villainy. His confrontations with D’Artagnan are abrupt, lacklustre and fail to suggest there will be a substantive conclusion or resolution to their conflict any time soon. 

Meanwhile, Hay does her best as the arch-villainess Milady but that amounts to little more than a few snarly, hissy moments, certainly not tantamount to the kind of emotions you would expect from a devious woman of her stature.

Then there’s Keith Dinicol bizarre characterization of Louis XIII, who at times sounds and even looks eerily like Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz, huffing, puffing and prancing about, looking all-the-world like a court clown, the farthest thing from a genuine regal figure.

The first act, long as it was, at least had a modicum of action and even those moments of comedy helped move the pace along at a passable rate. The second act was another story. Painfully slow, even the four musketeers appeared to be bogged down from time in time in a sort of theatrical quick sand.

Fight director John Stead, set designer Douglas Paraschuk and costume designer Gillian Gallow get high marks for their contributions but Potter needs to do some rethinking on how to add some spark to what turned out to be a drawn out mixed bag of goodies, long on talk and short on action. 

The Three Musketeers take home **1/2 out of four stars.
This review was originally seen online at The Beat Magazine.

Photo by Don Dixon: l-r Jonathan Goad, Luke Humphrey, Graham Abbey and Mike Shara. 

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