If the fourth production of Peter Raby’s 1968 adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ classic, The Three Musketeers, had quit at intermission (even leaving the slight plot points hanging), then the Stratford Shakespeare Festival Theatre’s 2013 season would be blessed with another hit.
Director Miles Potter’s vision of the life and times of the quartet of musketeers, lifted off with a hilarious, flashy bit of swordplay that immediately served notice that the next three hours would be fun, creatively staged, provide a surprise or two and a delightful confection for the whole family.
The visual humour was especially pleasing from the human chess match, through animals large and small (the promise of D’Artagnan’s famously coloured steed taking stage was a terrific tease as was the possibility that the messenger pigeon might actually get into a flap—both, no doubt, would have been added had Des McAnuff drawn the assignment), a fancy dress gala ball replete with tinkling harpsichord and a huge plate of spinach that signalled the resurrection of Aramis (Mike Shara plumbed every yuk without overplaying his hand) from dour priest to poetic romantic.
The various fights between the King’s Musketeers and their arch enemies, the Cardinal’s s Guards (none better than fight director John Stead to plan every thrust and parry), had exciting flash, variety of movement and faux bloodshed that didn’t seem to bother any of the many children taking in the opening performance.
The bit characters (grocer, Anand Rajaram with lots of range; Antoine Yared, as Planchet—D’Artagnan’s man, readily demonstrated his comedic skills and should expect larger parts) ideally complemented the leads.
Appearing as the villainous Milady de Winter, Deborah Hay began the nefarious role by gradually revealing her evil nature, but the characterization (again in Part II) never found its full-blooded promise.
After the pause the magical moments became few and far between as too many scenes with the words/action ratio now favouring the former had more than a few patrons surreptiously checking their digital timepieces and several families leaving early for the exits—especially when it became abundantly clear that de Winter’s head might roll across the stage once the executioner’s gleaming blade came into view.
The slower pace, fewer moments of balancing comedy and decidedly less visual interest combined to deadly effect. Here’s hoping the next outing of The Three Musketeers might find a fresh coat of adaptive paint: if a family show is truly wanted (as was the case with the 2010 version of Peter Pan, cross-reference below), then why not commission one of Canada’s growing stable of children’s theatre playwrights (e.g., Daniel Karasik and Thomas Morgan Jones) to take on the “One for all, and all for one” task. JWR