Behind The Scenes At Le Navet Bete’s The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure

Behind The Scenes At Le Navet Bete’s The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure

Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson

Photography by Sofy Robertson

Three chopper-style bicycles, a nun costume, a box of Milk Tray and a man in a wig; a list of seemingly unrelated things, you would assume. You would, of course, be wrong as these seemingly unrelated oddities are just a hint at what is to come for Le Navet Bete’s The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure.

With less than a week to go until their opening night at Exeter Northcott Theatre, I visited the company in their rehearsal space at the Exeter Shotokan Karate Club. The words ‘hive of activity’ sprung to mind as I stepped through the doors; costumes and props littered the wooden floor, members of the crew crowded around the sound desk, a seamstress was engaged in adding the finishing touches to costumes, sound cables snaked along the floor and director John Nicholson was jumping in and out of the action, script in hand.

Al Dunn and John Nicholson rehearse The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure.
Director John Nicholson (r) with Le Navet Bete actor Al Dunn (l)

To get to the ‘audience’ side of the rehearsal space, I had to walk under the set. Yes, under it; a mammoth and impressive structure designed by Ti Green which stretched towards the white ceiling.

I imagine this would be many children’s dream (and, let’s face it, many adults’ dream too!) with costumes and props galore, as well as an impressively high and complex staging structure to climb. I have to confess that I was filled with a child-like excitement and had to remind myself that for Le Navet Bete, this was a fairly ordinary day at ‘the office’.

The Exeter-based physical theatre group have enjoyed enormous success in their years working together; from sell-out Christmas shows in Plymouth to one of their latest shows, Dracula: The Bloody Truth, being licensed worldwide and enjoying a sell-out run in Canada. Yet within just a few minutes of taking in the awe of the structure and watching the company rehearse the second act, I had the impression that The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure promises to be their most impressive show yet.

Nick Bunt rehearses The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure.
Nick Bunt concentrates on descending the impressive structure of the set

Comprised of four actors (Al Dunn, Nick Bunt, Matt Freeman and Dan Bianchi) and one tech genius (Alex Best), Le Navet Bete have been working their theatre magic since meeting at college in Exmouth over ten years ago. With just four actors, the company are renowned for taking on performances with huge character lists and this promises to be no exception, after Al informed me that there are 119 costume changes in the performance.

The company are also renowned for taking on well-known stories and giving them their own unique twist; Aladdin involved time travel and an origin story, The Jungle Book promised real live animals (that had escaped and the cast had to ‘make do’ with props such as rubber gloves and a sleeping bag…). For Le Navet Bete’s The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure, the aforementioned list of seemingly unrelated items does not even scratch the surface at the creative madness and hilarity that audiences have in store.

Matt Freeman rehearses The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure.
Matt Freeman provides a glimpse of the creative madness in store for Le Navet Bete’s audience

Director and writer John Nicholson explained:

The Three Musketeers is a really fun prospect for Le Navet Bete. It’s a widely known and well-loved story which is often played for laughs in amongst the drama. But in Le Navet Bete’s hands you can be sure it will hit the funny bone hard. With just four performers, it’ll be a distinctive offering.”

With the complexity of the set and costume changes, I asked Al what set this performance apart from their previous productions. He explained:

“This performance is a lot more challenging than our previous shows; we have really exposed ourselves and that means there is nowhere to hide. Hopefully that will become something that’s joyful for the audience.

“We only have one structure to tell our story. In our previous shows, we have had numerous sets to play with.”

Al Dunn from Le Navet Bete sits leaning against a white wall.
Al Dunn, one quarter of Le Navet Bete’s performing company

We touched upon the obvious danger of the impressive set structure’s height and Alex, Le Navet Bete’s “technical and production wizard’, told me that this was the first time they would be “touring a floor”. Due to the size and height of the set, Alex needed to affix the structure to a custom floor stop it moving around as the actors performed on it. This will then be taken on their 11-venue national tour.

After a bit of chit-chat, it was down to business and I was treated to a sneak preview of the second act. So, what can you expect from Le Navet Bete’s The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure?

The costume changes were as fast and furious as ever and the witty (and sometimes naughty) lines gave me plenty of belly laughs. The three chopper-style bikes which I was so intrigued by when entering the rehearsal space were put to hilarious use in a scene brilliantly choreographed by Lea Anderson. Matt, who has a long repertoire of female roles under his belt (or in this case skirt), looked comfortable as ever in a wig and women’s clothes. And it must be said, any performance that manages to involve Crazy Horses by The Osmonds is well worth seeing!

Matt Freeman rehearses in a dress as Milady de Winter.
Matt Freeman rehearses his feminine wiles in front of the mirror

Le Navet Bete’s The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure opens at Exeter Northcott on Wednesday 1st May and runs until 5th May. There are still a few tickets left for the Exeter shows before the company takes The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure on tour around the UK.

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