The Three Musketeers

Three Muskateers Mark Dawson Photography DSC0753 minA swashbuckling new version of a familiar classic comes to Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre in late June. Exeter-based theatre company, Le Navet Bete, will be performing their comedy take on The Three Musketeers for two nights only as part of their nationwide tour.

The show’s preview challenges theatre-goers to join D’Artagnan as he rides to Paris astride his questionable steed determined to become a Musketeer, armed only with a baguette, his childish excitement and a sense of misplaced bravado. It then asks:

Will things go to plan? And provides the answer: It’s unlikely.

There are only four actors in the company but over forty roles to play. Some of them are familiar favourites like the Three Musketeers themselves and the creepy Cardinal Richelieu but some of them have only a couple of lines. How does all of this work? What’s On Taunton spoke with Al Dunn, one of Le Navet Bete’s sword-wielding superstars to find out.

“The challenge with this play is that we’ve taken away any wings or backstage areas so everything – including all the costume changes – happens on the stage. We’re totally exposed to the audience, including a couple of changes mid-action.

Three Muskateers Mark Dawson Photography DSC1615 minThe Three Musketeers is quite a complicated story. How do four performers deliver this in an evening’s entertainment? “That’s right,” agrees Al, “There are so many sub-plots going on. So, we try to squeeze in 700 pages of Alexandre Dumas’ epic adventure into about two hours of theatre. We took some short cuts, amalgamating a couple of characters into one for example, but the essence of the novel is there. We keep all of the plot points in.”

The group met whilst studying Theatre and Performance at University of Plymouth’s Exmouth campus and have made the South West their home. They are now Artists in Residence at the Exeter Phoenix and are an Associate Company at the Exeter Northcott Theatre with whom Le Navet Bete has worked as co-producing partners on The Three Musketeers. Le Navet Bete roughly translates as ‘the daft turnip’ and was chosen because, as Al explains, “It sounds serious, has some gravitas, but is basically nonsense and describes our very stupid take on things.”

Anyone concerned that a French play performed by a company with a French name will be in French need not worry, “We keep all the characters and some of them have French accents but that’s about it,” says Al. “There’s no French dialogue in the show. The main thing is the sense of camaraderie between the musketeers. Boys having fun, adventure and banter. That’s what’s fun to see. That’s what has made this story so timeless.”

Director and writer John Nicholson concurs, “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.”

Three Muskateers Mark Dawson Photography DSC1339 minIn this, the fifth full-length production by Le Navet Bete, the guys have collaborated with some award-winning talents. “We’re especially excited to be working with designer Ti Green and choreographer Lea Anderson,” says John, “Two people who are nationally recognised as being amongst the best in the business.”

“We wanted a set for The Three Musketeers that was really inventive, a real playground for us to use. What Ti has designed looks a bit like a tree house on three levels which fits perfectly with the way we want to tell the story,” reveals Al. “Lea is a legend of the dance world. She’s found a language to allow us to loosen up the show through movement and it fits brilliantly with the characterisation. She was great fun to work with.”

Three Muskateers Mark Dawson Photography DSC1240 minDoes the show change as the tour goes on? “Due to the way we work physically as comedians, we’re always experimenting with timing and changing jokes to see if they can become funnier. It’s all part of progressing a show. It’s really nice to develop it, play with it and refine it.”

In spite of there being some adult themes, they are well enough hidden for it to be a fun-for-all-family show. Why not buckle your swashes and head to Tacchi-Morris for a rip-roaring evening?

Le Navet Bete presents The Three Musketeers at Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre at Monkton Heathfield. Click here to go to the theatre booking site.

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