Our favourite boys are back and this time, Le Navet Bete, have chosen to give Alexandre Dumas’ mega-famous novel, The Three Musketeers, their own special twist of physical theatre and absurd comedy. You could say that this is the perfect story for them, the main premise being the friendship between four men. Add to that the chance to swashbuckle, run around like loonies and, of course, dress up as women and you have a dream come true for we LNB obsessives, in Le Navet Bete’s first ever performance here in the main theatre of Bristol Old Vic.
Al, Dan, Matt and Nick start the evening as young boys, dreaming up a world of adventure, villainy and fun. Set Designer, Ti Green, who created such BOV set delights as Touching the Void, has crafted a child’s dream den – all ladders, platforms and trees – for the troupe to play on. The upper tier becomes the court of Louis XIII and Queen Anne, while the floor area is the church of the wicked and hilarious Cardinal Richelieu (Nick Bunn), who conspires with the seductive (Matt Freeman pulls this off every time) femme fatale, Milady de Winter, to dispose of Queen Anne in the hope of cementing his influence over the non-too bright King, played by Dan Bianchi, who is the funniest I’ve ever seen him (something has happened to that lad, can’t quite put my finger on it). These three also play the eponymous Musketeers, with Al Dunn in the role of a somewhat camp, pantoesque and entertaining d’Artagnan. With the help of Stage Manager, Abi Cowan, the cast play around 40 characters and get changed, as ever with break-neck speed and fine comic timing, some 112 times – as Costume Designer, Fi Russell, says, “Putting the Kardashians to shame.” Glover certainly has her work cut out for her here; that’s a lot of costumes and fabulously eclectic they are – mum’s curtains, matched with 20th Century items such as Converse and early 17th Century outfits.
The pace of the show (2 hours, 10 mins with interval) is galloping, even if the heroes’ horses are actually kids’ bikes, with enough jokes and silly expressions to have anyone laughing constantly. The necessary sword-fighting bears testament to Le Navet Bete’s skill: they always, always manage to make everything look effortless but the craft and flair that these four have perfected is down to discipline and hard work. More importantly, the troupe are obviously having a fantastic time up there, enjoying every minute, connecting fully with the audience so that we feel complicit when things go (purposefully) awry. Their biggest skill is probably that; we feel like we know these boys. We are the reason they are here and we feel the love. John Nicholson’s writing is laden with innuendo, the expressive and knowing looks of the cast meaning that, even if you don’t get the verbal joke, it’s funny.
My 13 year old daughter and I can’t help but look at each other throughout the performance, cracking up, loving every minute. If you want an uplifting night out, whatever your age, Le Navet’s Bete’s The Three Musketeers is just the ticket.
The Three Musketeers plays at Bristol Old Vic until Saturday 24th August
- Image by Mark Dawson, with thanks