The Three Musketeers’ introductory framing device, complete with celebrity narrator gags, implies a live performance. What follows, however, is essentially a traditional recorded radio play, albeit an illustrated one, with occasional fourth-wall defying interruptions. While we are now, as a side effect of Covid, used to new types of digital performance, there’s a nagging feeling here, though, that producers FoolHardy and director Joseph O’Malley haven’t really committed to one form over another. The whole endeavour suffers from a slight identity crisis. The show also suffers because Zoom humour feels increasingly forced these days. Forgetting to mute ourselves surely stopped being new, or particularly funny, a long while ago.
The good news is, taking the radio play element at face value, the results are a lot of fun. All the voice performers are great, exuberantly embracing the freedom and silliness at the heart of Sydney Stevenson’s writing. All, perhaps, except the aforementioned celebrity narrator, Robert Lindsay, who starts deliciously grumpily and descends into despair as the action progresses.
To be fair to Mr Lindsay, it’s a wholly irreverent, chaotic adaptation of Dumas’s classic, way below an actor of his regard. The jokes try hard and mostly succeed. Whether you snigger at ‘erections’ and ‘bushes’ will depend on your tastes, or perhaps age. I much preferred a recurring bit of clever comedy about the invention of pockets. The tone sits somewhere between CBBC’s Horrible Histories and over-keen Edinburgh Festival improv. There’s an undeniable infectious joy to it all.
The problem in reviewing the writing further is FoolHardy make the decision to expose their flaws in a frenetic final ten minutes, reminiscent of The Play That Goes Wrong. To say more is a spoiler, but it is an oddly frustrating experience. With no sets collapsing or sense of danger, had I actually been listening to things going badly wrong? Besides, I had been enjoying it.
I say listening rather than watching because the on-screen illustrations are underwhelming. They seem to have been created in Microsoft Paint with very simple animation. Occasional ships sail by charmingly and there are general camera pans across rooms and scenery. People, however, were apparently either too difficult or expensive to draw. I soon lost interest, put in my headphones and settled for using my imagination.
In summary, this reviewer would love to encounter Foolhardy’s version of The Three Musketeers unadorned by illustrations and backstage Zoom shenanigans. Silly as it is, with some jokes more sophisticated than others, I smiled along with it merrily. To paraphrase the rock band Queen, who knew a thing or two about entertainment, sometimes all you need is radio.
Written by: Sydney Stevenson
Directed by: Joseph O’Malley
Sound and music by: Richard Wetherall
Animation by: Barbara Owczarek
Associate Production by: Foolhardy Productions
Produced and general management by: Sarah Arden & Thomas Moore for Arden Moore
The Three Musketeers is available to stream until 27 June. Tickets start from £10. A percentage of profits will also be donated to the Royal Theatrical Fund. Full details and booking via the below link.