Reviewed by Catherine Joyce
The Dukes put on their first open air theatre production in the beautiful setting of Williamson Park back in 1987. Over 30 years later they are still going strong with new director Sarah Punshon taking the reins this year. Any theatre production takes an incredible amount of hard work to produce and an outdoor performance is even harder as you have the logistics of moving both the cast and audience from scene to scene as well as the weather to contend with. Fortunately, with the heat wave we are currently experiencing, the weather was one less thing to worry about and Williamson Park, with breath-taking views over Lancaster and Morecambe Bay was the perfect place to be on a lovely sunny evening.
This production of The Three Musketeers was written by Hattie Naylor who has skilfully adapted the traditional story and added a sprinkling of Dukes magic, making for an entertaining night out. We especially loved the comedy that was added to the story, Planchet, the horse, had some fantastic one liners that had the audience in stitches and Delme Thomas was amazing as the gloriously camp King Louis. There are seven main cast members in the production and with the exception of D’Artagnan they all play multiple roles. This is so well executed that we didn’t actually realise until the end of the show that Christopher Bianchi was both Cardinal Bianchi and Planchet the horse!
The play unfolds over 6 scenes with a short interval after scene 3. We start in Gascony where D’Artagnan tells her mother that she is leaving because she wants to become a Musketeer. Her mother obviously doesn’t want her to go but D’Artagnan takes no notice of her and leaves together with her horse, Planchet. A short walk to the Ashton Memorial and we find ourselves in Paris where D’Artagnan meets the Musketeers for the very first time. With sword fighting and a huge amount of comedy this play just got better and better as the story unfolded. When we moved from France to England the background music helped set the scene and the supporting cast from the Dukes Community Company kept the audience entertained whilst the main cast and technical crew prepared for the next scene.
The story culminated with a grand “Orange Ball” set beneath the impressive Ashton Memorial with the whole cast taking to the dance floor to a fantastic collection of disco tunes whilst dressed in outrageous costumes. The audience got into the groove too and a few children were brought up to join in with the finale.
Christopher Bianchi was brilliant in both his roles, fantastically funny as Planchet but completely detestable as the villainous Cardinal Richalieux and had the audience hissing and booing as he took to the stage.
We’ve enjoyed seeing Delme Thomas in a previous Dukes’ performance and his portrayal of King Louis was simply amazing. Every time he was on stage the audience were in fits of laughter.
With comedy and a female D’Artagnan this is a completely different telling of Dumas’s original tale but sticks to the main plotlines that we’re all familiar with. This is a swashbuckling, laugh a minute retelling of a great classic story and is a perfect family night out this summer.
The park is well signposted from the A6, we managed to get a space on the car park which was free but it does fill up quickly so it is worth arriving early. Lots of families do arrive early and take the opportunity for a picnic tea in the beautiful surroundings which we thought was a great idea, especially when the weather is so nice. Seating varies at each location, sometimes there are benches or logs to sit on and in other locations the audience can sit on the ground. I would recommend taking something to sit on, a chair can be cumbersome and block people’s view, but a mat or blanket is ideal. Whilst the weather is glorious at the minute it does get cooler towards the end of the performance, so it is worth taking a jumper too.
We thoroughly enjoyed our evening out and will certainly be back next year.
Tickets cost from £8 to £15 (booking fees may apply).
The Three Musketeers is in Wiliamson Park in Lancaster from 3 July to 18 August 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit www.dukes-lancaster.org or call the box office on 01524 598500.
Williamson Park, Lancaster, Lancashire, LA1 3DZ | 01524 598500