The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure Is ‘One For All’
Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson
Photography by Mark Dawson
After spending an afternoon behind the scenes of Le Navet Bete’s latest production, The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure, it was with eager anticipation that I took my seat in the Exeter Northcott Theatre and gazed at the multiple levels of the intricate set structure.
Designed by Ti Green, the set perfectly captures the concept of childhood dens and secret spaces that the company have tried to evoke with its four actors, Al Dunn, Matt Freeman, Nick Bunt and Dan Bianchi, playing childhood friends and Musketeers, amongst multiple characters from Alexandre Dumas’ famous novel.
For those less familiar with Le Navet Bete’s work, this has become somewhat a signature of theirs; taking on storylines filled with characters and engaging in manic (yet mostly seamless!) quick changes, accent swaps and pointed breaking of the fourth wall when a character cannot appear onstage due to the actor playing a different role at that moment.
The concept of childhood friends playing out the role of the Musketeers, supported by great costume ideas from Fi Russell involving capes that looked like they were swiped from mum’s curtains, works perfectly for a company forged in friendship at University over ten years ago.
The performance follows Dumas’ storyline for the most part, although there are several instances where the actors talk directly to the audience, acknowledging flaws in their roles or swapping back to their ‘real’ selves. This is utilised to great effect towards the end of The Three Musketeers where the characters once again break from role and, controversially (and definitely comically!) decide to change Dumas’ storyline.
The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure contains, if possible, more double entendres than ever before, leaving adult members of the audience in stitches whilst younger members look on in confusion. The comic pacing is quick, enabling the company to pull off some rather risqué lines (and actions!) which fly under young viewers’ radars, whilst still providing plenty of overt physical comedy to target all ages.
Le Navet Bete fans will not be disappointed to see Matt cast once again in dresses and flouncing skirts, this time fulfilling vastly oppositional roles of Queen Anne and femme fatale Milady de Winter.
Towards the end of the performance, a fantastic ‘fight’ scene breaks out between D’Artagnan and Milady de Winter, demonstrating skilful choreography from Lea Anderson as well as the actors’ physical theatre prowess. With the added danger of the structure’s height, this made for a surprisingly tense yet simultaneously comic two minutes culminating in Milady de WInter (Matt) falling to the floor and losing his wig. The ensuing improvisation of his attempts to grasp the puddle of dark hair to hide his bald head recalled the actors’ skill at interpreting their audiences and providing off-the-cuff comedy and an experience that remains unique to each performance.
What audiences are saying
The Guardian awarded The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure three stars and The Reviews Hub dubbed the performance “utterly hilarious and heartfelt” alongside a four-star rating. Performances are not created exclusively for critics (or if they are, that’s where they are going wrong!) so for a true measure of The Three Musketeers‘ success, I have taken to eavesdropping at the end of shows and scrolling Twitter feeds.
Le Navet Bete has built up a fantastic loyal following over their years performing, which is testament to their strength as a company. At the end of every performance, Al announces that the company will head to the theatre bar to meet their audiences and they never fail to turn up, somehow still full of energy and enthusiasm to talk to those who could arguably be their biggest critics (I’m referring to their younger audience members here!)
The Saturday matinee performance I attended was no exception as each Bete member had his own little huddle of fans young and old and I caught Matt joking about how he has caught himself doing his Milady de Winter strut along the aisles of Aldi, re-enacting the moment for a family group by pretending to push an imaginary trolley with full pout and Milady de Winter flare.
A quick browse on Twitter reveals equally positive feedback for The Three Musketeers; @suehaswell described it as “Hysterical, athletic, creative, FUN!” and @melliesully tweeted “face still aching from the laughter, happiness and admiration for the fabulous @LeNavetBete”.
“Great performance of #TheThreeMusketeers by home grown talent @LeNavetBete @ExeterNorthcott tonight. Good to see such a wide age range in the audience, all enjoying the hilarious and fun show.”
@MooseAllain hailed the show as
“superb (as ever). A phenomenal feat of quick changes, physical skills, multiple characters, and laugh out loud tomfoolery.”
The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure – The Verdict
The title of this review adequately summarises this performance; it is one for all. During the interval, I remember saying to my mum (who after seeing their latest Christmas show, Aladdin, has become a firm fan and plans her trips to Devon around Le Navet Bete performances!) that it’s great to see the variety within Le Navet Bete’s audiences. Young couples, families, grandparents and, due to the performance being shown with a BSL interpreter on-stage and audio-description available via headphones, fully inclusive of those with audio and visual impairments.
As a company who are known for audience involvement and engagement, my only disappointment was that there was not more of this involved (aside from the duck scene!) I am fairly certain that the majority of audience members would have jumped at the chance to get involved on-stage amongst the fairy-tale-meets-childhood-den set, though my more mature voice of reason suggests this may have been purely due to health and safety restrictions.
There is a Peter Pan-esque joy in what Le Navet Bete do; a secret aside shared with the audience in admitting that the cast have so much in common with The Lost Boys. And, perhaps the best part of all, Le Navet Bete’s audiences are invited to share this conspiratorial joy of not growing up for two glorious hours.
For tickets and tour dates for The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure, click here. Le Navet Bete will be returning to Exeter Northcott to perform Dracula: The Bloody Truth. Tickets are available here.