WHETHER it was a cunning plan or pure happenstance, Tarrant Valley Players had a very timely choice with The Three Musketeers for their 2014 pantomime, at the Anne Biddlecombe Hall in Tarrant Keyneston.
Fortuitous or intentional, one thing was clear, as I took my seat in the packed hall amid the excited babble of children waiting for the theatrical event of the year, this would be a world away from the knowing sophistication, dazzling swordplay and spine-tingling corruption (another five star performance from Signor Machiavelli himself, Peter Capaldi) of the new television Musketeers series.
Tarrant Valley Players’ shows are always a hysterical and hilarious mix of comic timing and mistiming, forgotten and improvised lines, and local jokes – and the Musketeers was no exception.
Writer Alexis Austin took the swashbuckling Alexandre Dumas tale and turned it into a merry farce with many elements of the original – Athos, Porthos and Aramis, Cardinal Richelieu and Milady – and a number of new characters, including Valentine (Amy Lillywhite), the sister of dashing d’Artagnan, who is off fighting the Spanish single-handed, the thoroughly evil Compte de Rochefort – “I’m bad to the bone” – played with spitfire ferocity by Amanda Ireland-Jones and Fleur de Pink Bosom, larger-than-life landlady of Lily de Pink’s Tavern (Rob Chalkley).
Emma Chalkley, one of TVP’s most versatile performers, was on fine comic form as an incompetent and cowardly Aramis, constantly chivvied by the more bellicose Athos (Adrian Tuite) and Porthos (Denise Pearson).
Poppy Bayer was a feisty princess and Gay Bentley suitably calculating as the ultimate femme fatale, Milady de Winter. Adam Sykes was young Arnaud de Treville, new captain of the Musketeers after the disappearance of their veteran captain, his father. Ben Sheppard was Monty Flabberbottom, Fleur de Pink’s hapless son and would-be musketeer and Amanda Sheppard, who co-directed the show with Adrian Tuite, was the Cardinal’s fiendish torturer, Brie.
The show needed a bit of tightening up – more than two and a half hours is too long, even allowing for an extended matinee interval – but great fun was had by all, with plenty of bad jokes, farcical misunderstandings and evil plans foiled at the last minute. This was another thoroughly enjoyable TVP pantomime.