From the very outset Sir Malcom Arnold’s musical accompaniment thrusts the viewer into the intriguing and unstable world of 17th century Paris. The jilted combination of percussion and brass in the opening scene allows imagination of the French courts’ political chaos under the eccentric Louis XIII, with the three musketeers inevitably providing comic relief with cameos of boyish charm and boisterous behaviour. Unsurprisingly, the three musketeers steal the show as they guide us through various perils and vices, interspersed with masterful duels that are brought to life before inventive backdrops.
But the shenanigans of the title characters aren’t the only offering of humour, as Louis XIII announces himself to the audience in a manner as expressive as you’d imagine for one of history’s great dandies, whirling gaily back and forth across the stage in a dress to match that of his disapproving wife, Queen Anne. Unbeknownst to the King of course, his wife is venturing off each evening with the Duke of Buckingham, the English cad and courtier.
Amidst the chaos of promiscuity and duelling, d’Artagnan appears as the washed-up nobleman desperately seeking purpose in the French capital. Having befriended the three musketeers in a roundabout manner, a particularly memorable moment of the performance comes as d’Artagnan first lays eyes on Constance – the lights soften and the orchestra deftly draws the viewer into a wonderful slow-motion vignette as the young lovers’ eyes meet.. David Nixon’s impressive direction masterfully contrasts disorder and intimacy in this way several times throughout the evening, leaving an impression on the viewer.
It would be wise to avoid retelling one of Dumas’ classic tales, but I wonder why it took until 2006 for such an adaptable story to reach ballet. Nevertheless, commendations to David Nixon and writer David Drew for bringing The Three Musketeers to life with the aid of immersive costumes and sets, meticulous choreography and, of course, the beautiful music of the late Sir Malcolm Arnold. Northern Ballet’s production does great justice to a tale of such stature.
Header image: Emma Kauldhar