A romp on the lawn

Fortified by Bucks Fizz, Rebecca JS Nice braves the elements for Chesil’s Musketeers.

The Three Musketeers
The Three Musketeers

Celebrating its 150th anniversary, The Chesil Theatre presents The Three Musketeers. This open-air production runs from 8-12 July in the private garden of the new Bishop’s Palace, in the grounds of Wolvesey Castle. Willis Hall’s adaption of Alexandre Dumas’ novel is directed by the Chesil’s Martin Humphrey with a cast of twenty-eight.

The gardens of the Bishop’s Palace are transformed by a hungry audience, eager to dine al fresco in this privileged spot. Immaculately kept, and surrounded by flower borders, the trim lawn spreads the breadth of the Bishop’s stately home. Gates open ninety minutes before the performance, encouraging picnickers to enjoy this secret garden normally hidden from public view behind large medieval walls. The location gives this play wide appeal, the joy of the surroundings shared by cast, crew and audience members alike.

“The show is a bonus for us,” or so the couple next to me claim as they ply me with Bucks Fizz. Settled on blankets at the side of the garden, they add, “We just came for the picnic!”  As swallows dart across the sky and the evening draws in, it’s easy to forget that there is indeed a play to watch. The audience forms orderly rows with their garden chairs, champagne glasses in hand as King Louis XIII sits idly on his throne playing cup and ball. The rest of the cast enter onto a hessian-covered stage from behind the Bishop’s bushes, and Humphrey’s well-rehearsed production goes by without a hitch. Playing the young D’Artangnan, Michel Perlmutter is commendable but tense in his use of voice and physicality in stark contrast to the mature musketeers. Occasionally breaking the fourth wall might’ve allowed the cast to draw comic value from this and other performance hurdles.

Sword fighting brings a breath of life into the play, particularly when it spreads out to the garden and involves groups of ten or more combatants. The action is well-choreographed even if the actors play it safe. The physicality of men who fight to survive, and the rowdy camaraderie, that goes with that, isn’t quite reached. Perhaps the old Bishop’s Palace – the Wolvesey Castle ruins, would’ve provided a setting better suited to the boisterous, rough-and-tumble atmosphere the performance needs.

After a downpour in the interval the play resumed, the cast completely unfazed. Their attitude was refreshing, particularly after a rainy Hat Fair where performances were continually being rescheduled or cancelled. In true English fashion the Musketeers battled and bantered to a sea of tiny faces peeping out from raincoats and hoods. Tez Cook’s Porthos and Alec Walters’s Aramis kept the whole enterprise on a roll. Various older actors appeared only for moments; ironically, some of these minor roles held more presence than the main cast conveyed. Chesil’s Three Musketeers runs for two and half hours including a twenty minute interval, so it’s worth bringing a portable chair. Some judicious cutting wouldn’t go amiss, but a delightful evening nonetheless.

Running 8-12 July.  For more information visit the Chesil Theatre website.

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