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Northern Ballet Theatre

'The Three Musketeers'

by David Mead

March 23, 2007 -- Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, UK

Northern Ballet Theatre has walked away with the Critics Circle Audience Award three years running.  When you see productions like this it’s not hard to understand why.  David Nixon’s “Three Musketeers” has sword fights galore, humour romantic and very classical duets, and some well-crafted crowd and ensemble scenes.  Above all, he can tell a story and it is entertaining.

The plot revolves around the Queen’s diamonds, given to her lover Buckingham, but which then have to be recovered to foil a plot by the scheming Richelieu, his henchman Rochefort and spy Milady de Winter, a wonderfully evil performance from Victoria Sibson full of vicious glares and snarls.  There are plenty of adventures along the way but, apart from an opening when the scenes come so thick and fast you start to wonder what is happening and who is who, Nixon tells it all with great clarity.

The ballet has so many leading roles it’s difficult to pick individuals out, but it is the two couples that linger in the memory the most.  Pippa Moore was quite simply delightful as the initially innocent Constance, swept off her feet by Hironao Takahashi’s dashing D’Artagnan.  The end of Act I has more than a nod in the direction of “Romeo and Juliet” in the way time stands still for the couple as their eyes really meet for the first time; then in the way the subsequent pas de deux develops, Constance at first so shy and not knowing quite what to do, but soon losing her inhibitions.

Desire Samaai as Queen Anne was anything but bashful as she indulged in her secret love affair behind the King’s back.  David Paul Kierce made for an aristocratically tall Buckingham.  He was very solid in the complicated and difficult lifts that punctuated their duets but was strangely cold as a lover and seemed somewhat stiff in his movement.  Perhaps it was something to do with being British.

Elsewhere John Hull, Darren Goldsmith and Yi Song very much brought a happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care attitude to musketeering.  Yes, they had a job to do, but they sure as anything were going to have fun and a roistering good time doing it.  There was also plenty of work for the corps as guards, Parisian citizens, aristocrats and washerwomen, the latter especially good in a feisty stomping dance that involved an inordinate amount of laundry, most of which finished up on the floor.

The tone of the ballet brought back memories of the Richard Lester’s Three Musketeers movies of the mid 1970s whose star-studded cast list included Oliver Reed, Michael York and Racquel Welch among others.  Just like in those films, humour plays an important part here, but where Nixon has been so clever is that it’s never forced or out of place.  The most prolonged laughter was brought about by Louis XIII (Kenneth Tindall) dancing dressed as a woman.  It wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Trocks, although he wasn’t on pointe.  It wasn’t just funny but also apparently historically accurate.  Louis XIII was indeed said to be a good dancer, always performing ridiculous characters including, occasionally, a woman.

All this is to the sweeping music of Sir Malcolm Arnold.  Thirty years ago, Arnold started writing a score for a Three Musketeers ballet to be produced at Covent Garden, which for various reasons never happened.  Sadly only one short piece remains and is in this work, but John Longstaff has done an excellent job specially arranging movements from Arnold’s second, third and fifth symphonies, various film scores and several other shorter pieces.  Arnold sadly died last September on the very day of the ballet’s premiere but I suspect that he might have been very pleased indeed.

The story was helped on its way by Charles Cusick-Smith’s beautiful set that effortlessly and seamlessly changes from Kitchen to Street Scene, ballroom and others.  Cusick-Smith is collaborating with Nixon again on a newand, Nixon assures us, very classical and traditional “Nuctcracker”, to be premiered in Manchester in October.  If “Three Musketeers” is anything to go by, it should be worth waiting for.

All in all it was great swashbuckling fun that is difficult not to like.  You could argue that it’s a bit shallow or not sufficiently true to  life, and Kenneth MacMillan or even David Bintley it definitely is not.  Then again, that’s clearly not what Nixon had in mind.  And there are odd things you could be picky about.  Some of the sword fights, though oddly not all, were a little tame and almost in slow motion, and something really does need to be done about some of the terrible fake moustaches.  But the audience loved it; not least the lady sitting right in front of me who, I swear, lived every moment.  And why not?  It’s that sort of show.  What’s more, the dancers seemed to be enjoying themselves just as much as the rest of us.

“The Three Musketeers” continues on tour to Norwich, Manchester, Belfast and London (Sadler’s Wells).

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