Review: The Three Musketeers, promenade performances from St Crux Parish Hall, various dates until August 10

The Three Musketeers, James Witchwood, Ben Sawyer and Richard Bevan.

The Three Musketeers, James Witchwood, Ben Sawyer and Richard Bevan.

First published in Theatre
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HERE is the alternative Tour de France, making its way around York's streets only weeks after the Grand Depart cyclists' gentle morning stretch in lycra.

Re-Stage and Nightshade Productions duly make a couple of tongue-in-cheek, topical references to Le Tour in Chris Green and Damian Freddi's high-spirited romp through Alexander Dumas's 1844 historical novel.

As chance would have it, Dumas's 300th birthday coincided with last Thursday's performance, adding to the bonhomie of a night of sure-footed, sprightly street theatre, for which Chris Green has revised former University of York student Justin Stathers's stage adaptation for the outdoor life as a promenade show.

"When you’re on the move, you have to cut out the exposition and cut down on the number of characters," reasons Green, who combines a snappier form of presentation with the distribution of mock-ups of Cardinal Richelieu's news sheet, The Gazette, by the News Seller (Matt Harris) for news flashes between scenes.

Cardinal Richelieu is the show's driving force, recounting the deeds of the Musketeers in flashback as he records his memoirs with his secretary, Mazarin (Leanne Hayes).

If you could pick one actor from the ranks of York's community players to command the streets, it would be Lee Gemmell, a substantial man with a stentorian voice who can play to a crowd with grand theatricality and yet be true to his character's political principles too. When his ever-plotting Richelieu says he does everything for the greater good of France, you believe him, even if he is the bete noir of Dumas's story set in the Paris of the 1620s.

The show moves at a lick through the streets from St Crux, through Newgate market, past Bedern Hall, onward to College Green, resuming after liquid refreshment at the Cross Keys with further stops outside York Minster, at Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, and finally at King's Square. In turn, such locations serve as Richelieu's Palace; a market place; D'Artagnan's Farm; an inn; the Palace Gardens; the Duke of Buckingham's House and Bastille Chapel. This is one of the joys of outdoor theatre in York: the city is rich with ideal locations, and this show uses them with a flourish.

Plenty of physicality is necessary for the story of young, determined D'Artagnan (Jimmy Johnston) and his quest to join the King's Musketeers in a world of intrigue, duels, honour and treachery. Johnston has a freshman's naivety about him and the Stathers and Green script gives him direct interaction with the audience as he provides a running commentary on his progress, when given a bumpy ride by the well-established partnership of musketeers Porthos (James Witchwood), Aramis (Ben Sawyer) and Athos (Richard Bevan).

All three actors are experienced hands on the York theatre scene, not least in the skills of promenade work, which requires a broader, even brazen style on this occasion to go with their sword-fighting chutzpah. Their musketeers have the kind of reckless camaraderie more often found on a York weekend pub crawl .

Daniel Wilmot's Duke of Buckingham and Naomi Lombard's Queen Anne add to the political intrigue with their bravura affair; Freddi's Louis XIII "feels fabulous" in his regal robes; and Peter Marshall's Count de Rochefort harks back to the days of silent movies with his dark-eyed, villainous Count de Rochefort.

The women may be outnumbered but two of the best performances are Natalie Bowers' duplicitous, dangerous Milady de Winter and Imogen Little's Constance Bonnacieux, the Lady-in-Waiting. She will not be waiting long for principal roles.

The Three Musketeers, Re-Stage and Nightshade Productions; meeting at St Crux Parish Church, Pavement, York, tonight to Sunday and August 6 to 10 at 7pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or on the door

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