The Three Musketeers and the Princess of Spain
The Three Musketeers and the Princess of Spain is a new adventure from the annals of the musketeers.
It follows the fortunes of childhood sweethearts d'Artagnan and Constance from the woods of Gascony to the sewers of Paris and finally into a sinister forest - all on a quest to free France from the tyranny of the Cardinal and a baby-eating giant called Lord Mandible who suffers from violent mood swings.
The story begins with d'Artagnan as a child being tricked into crossing a mysterious fairy-tale stream which disconnects him from his memory and emotions, after which he has no desire in life other than to fight. He's a wild fighting machine, living in the woods isolated from other people.
The Princess of Spain is on her way to Paris to marry the King of France and thus bring about peace between the two countries who have been impoverished by a long war. But the Cardinal doesn't want peace - he is enjoying the profits of war - he sends some of his troops to ambush and kill her.
D'Artagnan saves her. Reaching Paris he seeks out the help of some musketeers but the only three he can find are clapped out and hiding from the world in an underground cellar. Aramis is a womaniser, Athos is a serious drunk and Porthos is fat, camp and deluded. Rather than believe he's grossly overweight he imagines he must be pregnant and he does in fact undergo a surreal "childbirth", thus taking a starring role in the play's Nativity scene.
Yet these three hopeless musketeers plus an emotionally retarded d'Artagnan are our only hope. If they are going to defeat the Cardinal and save the Princess' baby from Lord Mandible, they are going to have to find the answer to some serious questions.
The Three Musketeers was a co-production by English Touring Theatre, Coventry Belgrade and the Traverse Theatre. It opened at the Belgrade on 9th October 2010, directed by Dominic Hill and designed by Colin Richmond. In the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland 2011, it won Best New Play. The cast was Nicholas Asbury (Athos), Sarah Bedi (Pauline/Denise)., Cliff Burnett (Aramis), Alexander Campbell (King of France), Ralph Casson (Doctor/Gravedigger), Cynthia Erivo (Constance), Peter Forbes (Porthos), Oliver Gomm (d'Artagnan), Mark Jax (Gamaches), Clive Mendus (Cardinal), Seb Morgan (Olivier), Beatriz Romilly (the Princess of Spain), Paul Trussell (Le Noir/Mother). The music was by Nikola Kodjabashia and the fights were staged by Renny Krupinski.
I took enormous liberties with the Dumas stories partly because that's in the anarchic spirit of the books but mostly because I had no choice.
The original Three Musketeers was published in weekly episodes - Dumas didn 't know what was going to happen from one week to the next which is one reason for the novel's pace and freshness, its energy and changes in direction. All of that is wonderful in a serialization but a two hour play needs a strong through-line and I wanted to send the hero on a series of adventures which would also change him as a person.
So I came up with the idea of Constance and d'Artagnan as childhood sweethearts separated by fate and a fairy-tale curse that disconnects d'Artagnan from his memory and emotion. His quest is to re-discover his feelings and re-connect with the world around him.
Dominic Hill's production was praised for its exuberant anarchy and visual elan and Rachel Canning, a genius puppet-designer, created the depressed baby-eating giant Lord Mandible which took the show into another dimension. In rehearsal Dominic said to the actor Clive Mendus that when Lord Mandible died it should be like he's relieved to be rid of his life. It was a brilliant piece of direction but I remember feeling sceptical that we could actually make such a thing happen in any way that would be visible to the audience.
In fact the production achieved exactly this sense of release. Nikola Kodjabashia's music, Clive Mendus' vocal performance and the work of the actor/puppeteers made his death into a strange and wonderful moment of transformation.