Performing Arts
© Mike Keenan

Stratford's Three Musketeers - "May the Force be with you"

or "One for All & All for One"
Three Musketeers. photo by Don Dixon

In Stratford's production of The Three Musketeers, a daring youth, D'Artagnan (Luke Humphrey), bids his parents farewell in Gascony and sets out for the big city, Paris, where he will join the Musketeers of King Louis XIII. Along the way, he is involved in a tavern brawl with the Comte de Rochefort (Michael Blake), Cardinal Richelieu's agent, and is captivated by the beauty of Rochefort's travelling companion, Milady de Winter (Deborah Hay). Both Rochefort and Milady act as Cardinal Richelieu's agents in a plot to drive a wedge between Louis (Keith Dinicol) and his wife, Queen Anne (Nehassaiu deGannes), who has attracted the passionate attention of the Duke of Buckingham (Skye Brandon).

In Paris, volatile young D'Artagnan quickly makes enemies, then befriends a trio of the king's Musketeers, "three inseparables" - Athos (Graham Abbey), Aramis (Mike Shara) and Porthos (Jonathan Goad), the very Musketeers he is eager to join.

At first, he will fight each in separate duels; however, before that transpires, he helps them repel arrest by the Cardinal's guards. Of course, they readily welcome him as a companion and they all set off to defeat Richelieu's plot and find the Queen's jewels in England, a task full of wine, women and, instead of song, heaps of sword-fighting with the Cardinal's guards. They foil a plot to initiate war between England and France. It's now, " One for All and All for One!" or as Jedi Luke Skywalker might suggest, "May the Force be with you!"

Musketeers employs a strong cast with slashing sword fight action on the Festival thrust stage. Congratulations to John Stead , in charge of the cast's fight direction; they all handle their épées in convincing fashion, and the accompanying props and designs by Douglas Paraschuk (set), Gillian Gallow (costumes) and Michael Walton (lighting) are as wonderfully detailed as the fight scenes.

Miles Potter's Director's Notes (As Young as Yesterday) in the program provides this background:

"Life knows no age or time.
Youth will ever set out to seek fortune.
Man will ever fight for the love of Woman.
Kings will threaten - Queens weep -
Ministers conspire.
And so - though our story is of three
hundred years ago,
it is as young as Yesterday - or
Jonathan Goad as Porthos, Graham Abbey as Athos, Mike Shara as Aramis and Luke Humphrey as DArtagnan. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann Jonathan Goad, Mike Shara, Luke Humphrey, Graham Abbey. Photo by Don Dixon

These are the opening title cards for the 1921 silent movie of The Three Musketeers, starring Douglas Fairbanks. Ninety-two years later, the sentiment still holds true. Dumas struck narrative gold when, during researches for his history books, he came across an obscure title in the Marseille public library: Memoirs of Mr. D'Artagnan, Lieutenant Captain of the First Company of the King's Musketeers) by Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras. In this semi-fictionalized memoir of the famous musketeer D'Artagnan, published in 1700, Dumas found the names of Athos, Porthos and Aramis. Weaving together historical details of the period as well as letting his own fertile imagination run wild, Dumas created tropes and archetypes we are still mining today: "buddy stories," tales of a young man wanting to prove himself, wanting to "belong to a team" and thwarted love are all timeless themes that recur in popular culture. But to Dumas and his large audience they felt new, and he created characters as durable as any in popular culture.

Bethany Jillard as Constance Bonacieux. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann  Deborah Hay as Milady de Winter and Graham Abbey as Athos. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann  Keith Dinicol as Louis XIII. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann  Nehassaiu deGannes as Anne of Austria in The Three Musketeers. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann  Steven Sutcliffe as Cardinal Richelieu. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

And while the attitude of the piece toward women is of its time, we must remember that Dumas created a character that paved the way for the villains of James Bond, Holmes's Moriarty or Harry Potter's Voldemort. She is of course Milady de Winter, who (I believe) rises above the misogyny of her origins to pretty much wipe the floor with most male heroes. As she points out, it takes eight men to bring her down. Members of the company in The Three Musketeers. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann Like Voldemort, she seems capable of coming back from the dead, and like Moriarty, the obscurity of her origins and her ability to shape-shift only amplify her power. The very fluidity and ambiguity of Milady's character adds to her power. She is not an evil woman; she is a terrifying force of nature.

As to the rest of the story, while it is indeed timeless, any stage version must be of its time. The Batman or Lone Ranger of my childhood are not the same as those portrayed today. Today, people like their heroes with a certain moral complexity, which Dumas was certainly happy to supply. Life was precarious in 1625, swords killed, and living life to its fullest every day makes sense when life is so very dangerous.

We hope we have brought to the stage characters that embody all the life-force and all the fun of Dumas' originals, as well as acknowledging the fact that Dumas took his entertainment seriously indeed; and because of that, the story has survived to be a classic that is indeed "as young as yesterday - or tomorrow."

The Three Musketeers by Peter Raby, directed by Miles Potter runs at the Festival Theatre until Oct. 19.
See or 1-800-567-1600.

How to Become a Musketeer | Stratford Festival

The Three Musketeers | 2013 Stratford Festival

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