Coming to St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden to round out the summer is a brand new theatre production of The Three Musketeers. The play runs from the 2nd August to 2nd September and for tickets & more information please visit http://actorschurch.org/event/?show=0&id=873584102. Although I’m a pretty big book nerd, The Three Musketeers isn’t a story I’m that familiar with! Luckily for me, I got the chance to ask director Paul-Ryan Carberry about what audiences can expect from Iris Theatre’s new production.
HS: For those that are new to The Three Musketeers, what is the show and what can the audience expect from it?
PRC: The show was born out of the classic novel by Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers, which is set in 17th century France. It’s a story about lots of things but at its core it’s a story about friendship, courage, and what can be achieved when people come together to address their common enemy, their common concerns, and about how we are stronger as a whole rather than individual. The story follows a young d’Artagnan who leaves home in the south of France after the death of their father and travels to Paris to try and join the King’s famous Musketeers who are known for their skill in sword fighting, their courage, and their honour. I think what audiences can absolutely expect is a sense of energy, attack, and adventure in the truest form of theatre.
We’ll be in St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden which is a beautiful setting. The show is outdoor and promenade which means it moves across the various spaces outside so that’s something that’s really exciting as well. For me, what audiences can expect is a story that is inspired by 17th century French historical accuracy but not limited by it. We’re creating a production that has a lot of nods to the history but can feel quite contemporary, energised, and current which is also tied to our new adaptation as I’ll talk about a bit later.
Of course there will be lots of sword fights which is very exciting and one of the languages that we’ve been playing with in the rehearsal room around the sword fight is this idea of real live bullet time slow-motion, in a lot of ways like you see in the Marvel films at the moment. So the action is energize but we play with stop-motion which I find really exciting and I hope that with our younger audiences, it will be a language that they’ll be used to due to the Marvel films.
To sum up on the question, audiences can expect the production to be energised on the front foot, funny in moments, lots of adventure and sword fights, and the beautiful setting that is St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden.
HS: Was it an easy process adapting the classic novel to a stage play?
PRC: Huge love and respect to be sent to Daniel Winder who is not only the Artistic Director at Iris Theatre but he is also the writer and the adapter of this new production of The Three Musketeers. One of the glorious things about the novel is that it’s so huge and sweeping. It’s massive and it’s really brilliant to be able to take a novel like that which is huge, sweeping, and epic and try to refine it down into what is essentially a two-hour story. Dan and I have been working together on the adaptation for about six to seven months now and we’ve had various processes in putting the drafts together. We started out with a huge bit of material which was basically all of the spoken text (or dialogue) from the novel and then from that we bullet pointed down the key areas that we wanted to investigate in the play. Then it became a constant process of notes back and forth until we refined down the material further into our rehearsal draft.
Is the process easy? No, it’s very difficult but I think the exciting thing about this piece is that we’ve had a very clear idea from the outset about the key areas we wanted to investigate and that allowed us to find the framework we needed in order to further build.
The key thing to know at this point about our adaptation that makes it different is our d’Artagnan. In the novel d’Artagnan is a man driven by blind sex and male ambition and for me, to be honest, who wants to tell that story now? In the current political climate that we’re in, I didn’t want to tell another story about a man and their ambition. I think there are better stories out there and in our adaptation, d’Artagnan is a woman who disguises herself as a man which, for me, is really exciting. d’Artagnan is a woman having all of the skill sets and courage to be a Musketeer yet she has to fight through the constraints that society is trying to put on her in order to achieve her goal. It’s that focus which will allow the play to be even more relevant now than when it was when first written and that’s something we’ve been really keen to investigate. We want to make sure that this story lands right in the now and with our audience now. And I’m hoping that young girls and boys will see that instead of a bunch of men running around having sword fights, there are women taking charge and leading the way.
In short, was it easy? No it’s been a long and detailed process but I think Daniel Winder has done such a brilliant job.
HS: If Alexandre Dumas was alive today, what would you ask him about The Three Musketeers?
PRC: I would what triggered him to write the story.
When he wrote the piece, it would have been a historical novel and we have references about Dumas and his initial thinking on The Three Musketeers but little else. My question for Duma (and any writer really) is: What’s the spark? What is it that triggered the story in his mind and allowed him to sit down and write a sweeping epic? That level of dedication from any writer fascinates me, especially when you have novels of this size. What is that spark? What is the fire? What drove the need to sit down and write and write and write and what was it about this story that inspired him?
HS: Was it difficult to assemble this brillant cast?
PRC: We have an absolutely amazing cast. The versatility of the company is exceptional especially with this adaptation written for a cast of seven so there’s a lot of multi-roling. For them, as a bunch of actors, to dive into that idea (multi-roling) and combat it with such energy has been really inspiring to see.
In terms of the casting process, earlier on in my career I was an actor as well so I know the audition process in the industry (in general) needs improving so it was very important to me that what we set up in the audition room an environment of respect, safety, and appreciation for our actors. We also worked really hard to ensure we were as accessible as we possibly could be which I think is massively important. With the limits of the piece, we had to investigate actors that had very good skills in stage combat and we were very lucky to find a company that were not only brilliant actors but also had excellent fight capabilities as well.
Was it difficult? Of course, you always want to work to make sure that you have the best cast you possibly can and a cast that is going to unite together and create a brilliant environment in the rehearsal room. I think we’ve been really lucky in the sense that we managed to achieve all of our objectives that we set out even before we went into casting. And again, I’m really excited for our audiences to see the brilliant work that’s going on in the rehearsal room at this moment on stage.
HS: What prompted d’Artagnan to be cast as a woman?
PRC: I think the key thing to say here is that in this new adaptation, d’Artagnan is a woman disguising herself as a man rather than a woman playing a man. I think that is a very important aspect to distinguish.
As I touched upon earlier – in the novel, despite all its brilliance, d’Artagnan is a young man driven by blind male ambition and sex in order to achieve a place in the Musketeers. And if you look at society, theatre, the original story, and d’Artagnan at this moment in time, why would anyone want to tell The Three Musketeers now? I think that a lot of the novel and its politics is relevant to today but in conversations I had with Daniel Winder, we both share the idea of the importance of d’Artagnan being a woman. It adds an extra layer to the story and I think it makes it dramatically better.
d’Artagnan, as a woman, has all of the skills, courage, and everything that she needs to be a Musketeer and what stops her is her gender. Throughout the play, it is her actions that win her a place in the Musketeers, not her parentage or anything else. She proves herself, regardless of her gender, that she has a right to be in the Musketeers which, for me, is a really important political statement to be sharing at the moment in time.
Attached within our adaptation is also the issue of identity politics which is something that I am really passionate about. And the exciting thing about this adaptation, overall, is that it is very much driven by the women of this play: d’Artagnan, Milady, the Queen, and Constance. All four women are drivers of the play and usually when this play is done it is male heavy and male lead. To approach this story from a different angle allows us to create a piece that is far more relevant and lands much better now as a piece of theatre.
Huge thanks to Paul-Ryan for taking the time out to answer my questions! I can’t wait to check out this exciting new production.
Until next time,
Cover image taken by Chris Mann