The Three Musketeers- Bristol Old Vic ☆☆☆☆

At a time when so many independent companies are questioning how to shatter the glass ceiling and move from the studio setting to the main house, it is heartening to see Le Navet Bete on the main stage of Bristol Old Vic in The Three Musketeers. The Exeter based company, who have previously played Bristol in venues such as The Tobacco Factory and the Redgrave finally take a step up to the Old Vics hallowed ground in a production that fits its larger playing field like a glove.
This is mostly down to the talents of writer/director John Nicholson (who has co-written with the company and co-directed with movement director Lea Andersen) who has honed and sharpened Dumas’ much-loved novel to the stage. He wraps its dashes of romance, adventure and intrigue around the framing device of childhood memories and long summers where childhood friendships develop into lifelong bonds. Ti Green’s multi-level design is reminiscent of childhood dens as well as representing the high palaces and dens of iniquity of Paris and the country estates and ports of Britain.
Nicholson’s script sticks close to the novels narrative beats while chucking in plenty of silliness. Lines like ‘I’ve been stabbed in the croissant’ abound while the Musketeers ride about on BMX’s, another nod to its Goonies lite aesthetic. The production is sleek and sharp, the actors 112 costume changes in a little over 90 minutes of stage time never distracting from the main source of action. Some of these changes veer close to genius, such as when the Musketeers duel with the Kings Guard in a blaze of blue to orange tunic switching. Yet Nicholson also finds time to throw in a bit of literary criticism, my favourite joke of the evening was the moment the titular heroes realise they don’t possess much agency in driving the plot forward.
What takes it to the next level though is Matt Freeman’s portrayal of Milady de Winter. Strolling on with a black bob wig that pitches Milady somewhere between Uma Thurman’s Mia Wallace and Cate Blanchett’s Irina Spalko. Making a strong play of being one of the oldest and greatest femme fatales, Freeman’s lightens up the stage, whether sparking up after every tumble in the hay or playing every man she comes into contact with, with nothing more than a raised eyebrow. Lightly sexy and proving that villains do get to have all the fun, it’s a tour-de-force of a performance.
If I wish the company would get away from the scripted corpse, that audiences seem to love but get in the way of clean storytelling, it is a work that proves that these Plymouth University graduates deserve their step up. The Three Musketeers is great, late summer escapism, with plenty to appeal to young and old alike. One for all and all for one indeed.
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Edinburgh 2019

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Full list of reviews from this years festival

By Star Ratings:

5

Fishbowl- Pleasance

Are We Not Drawn Onward to New ErA- Zoo

4

Ruff Guide To Shakespeare- Assembly

Lucy McCormick: Post Popular- Pleasance

Atomic Saloon Show- Assembly

Crocodile Fever- Traverse

Sexy Lamp- Pleasance

Oedipus- Kings Theatre

Big Bite-Sized Breakfast- Pleasance

I Wish My Life Were Like A Musical- Underbelly

3

The Last of the Pelican Daughters- Pleasance

Cruel Intentions: The 90’s Musical-Assembly

Jekyll and Hyde- Assembly

Noir Hamlet- The Space

Limbo: City Of Dreams- Gilded Balloon

Checkpoint- Paradise In The Vaults

Illicit Thrills: Where Do We GoGo From Here- Voodoo Rooms

Murder On The Dancefloor- Pleasance

Order from Chaos- Greenside

2

Devil Of Choice-Assembly

Typical-Pleasance

By Date:

Monday 12th August

Ruff Guide To Shakespeare- Assembly

Fishbowl- Pleasance

The Last of the Pelican Daughters- Pleasance

Cruel Intentions: The 90’s Musical-Assembly

Tuesday 13th August

Devil Of Choice- Assembly

Jekyll and Hyde-Assembly

Lucy McCormick:Post Popular- Pleasance

Atomic Saloon Show- Assembly

Wednesday 14th August

Crocodile Fever- Traverse

Sexy Lamp- Pleasance

Typical-Pleasance

Oedipus- Kings Theatre

Thursday 15th August

Big Bite-Sized Breakfast- Pleasance

Noir Hamlet- The Space

Limbo: City Of Dreams- Gilded Balloon

Checkpoint- Paradise In The Vaults

I Wish My Life Were Like A Musical- Underbelly

Illicit Thrills: Where Do We GoGo From Here- Voodoo Rooms

Friday 16th August

Are We Not Drawn Onward to New ErA- Zoo

Murder On The Dancefloor- Pleasance

Order from Chaos- Greenside

Order from Chaos- Greenside@Infirmary Street Olive Studio (17:30) ☆☆☆

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I caught more than my fair share of big-time shows in Edinburgh this year, the kind that asks audiences to form long lines outside the venue thirty minutes before showtime to procure a good seat. But the Fringe ethos has always been to pair the established with the upcoming, the celebrity and the marketing budgets with the scrappy up-and-comer. So, I wrapped up my Fringe by catching Order From Chaos, brought directly from Nottingham New Theatre, the only student-run theatre in the country. Though it may not be quite as slick as some of the more established work this Fringe and appears to have had to significantly cut down on its design since it played on home territory late last year, writer/director Jonny Khan’s celebration of music and family still manages to pack a punch.

Jay (Lois Baglin) has grown up on music. From jungle to house, the beats and the DJ’s that weaved them have been her passion. Telling the story of the introduction of the style, from its formation by Frankie Knuckles in Chicago in the 70’s to its banning by the Criminal Justice Bill and beyond, it is a celebration both of the counter-cultural scene that it birthed and a moving look at what happens when this pleasure is taken away from you.

For Jay is finding her hearing rapidly disintegrating. If the show starts as one thing, it becomes something else as it flicks between the social to the personal and hones in on the relationship between Jay and her brother (Morgan Beale) who tries to find a way to support her as her one great passion is taken away by her deafness.

Khan draws strong, committed work from both his performers and the piece shows the thrill that takes place when music washes over them and they euphorically break into dance. The screen that plays subtitles throughout comes to the fore once Jay’s hearing goes, though distractingly the lines the performers deliver are slightly paraphrased to what we are reading in the text, and there are one or two slightly off cueing issues that affect the rhythm.

Yet its power still comes to the fore. Music still courses through Jay even as she can no longer hear each note. The Fringe needs an audience to take a punt on the new and the unknown if it is to continue to thrive. You could do worse than take a chance on this.

Murder on the Dancefloor- Pleasance Courtyard Beyond (14:15) ☆☆☆

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If the Fringe is the place for developing companies to get noticed, Spies Like Us are already veterans of the game, even though the majority of them are still at university. Having caught the industries eye with Our Man in Havana in 2017 and solidified their promise with Woyzeck in 2018 they complete a triumvirate with Murder On The Dancefloor in 2019. It probably can claim the award for the sweatiest show of this year’s Fringe, in the sauna-like conditions of Beside, but this group, supported by both the Young Pleasance and New Diorama won’t allow you to drift off in the heat.
For anyone who has graduated university and found that the world isn’t going to offer them a free pass, this work that tells the story of Sabrina (Phoebe Campbell) and her three friends after they return to their hometown after graduating will feel horribly pertinent. Underpaid work, box-like studio apartments, parents who can’t understand why you aren’t up on your own two feet yet, all these litanies of woes are present and correct.
Yet writer and director Ollie Norton-Smith spins this familiar scenario into the ever-more gleefully gothic territory. Bodies will litter the floor like a Jacobean Revenge Tragedy by its conclusion. In truth, this first wholly original piece of theatre from the company isn’t as tightly plotted as it could be. With a five-strong cast playing all the roles and some intermingling of character and plot by the end, it can get difficult trying to keep track of who we are watching in each moment. Campbell is offering superb work, acting as our guide through the plot but some of the other performances, while brimming with energy, lack a technicality that allows them to switch characters with ease.
What the piece does allow them to demonstrate though is their physical exuberance, flinging themselves into each scenario with gleeful abandon. The soundtrack of pop hits provides a banging accompaniment to the mayhem and bloodshed that eventually befalls. Gleeful entertainment than from these precociously talented youngsters.

Are We Not Drawn Onward to New ErA- Zoo Southside Main House (11:00) ☆☆☆☆☆

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The title Are We Not Drawn Onward to New ErA-much like the first half of this 70-minute piece- originally feels a strain to get your head around, likely to test the patience of the audience member having to try to order the ticket at the box office, as it is to those who sit through the first half of a piece where the actors wade in weird, unnatural jerky movements and the language they speak appears gobbledygook.  Have a look at it again though; its title a palindrome; what must go forwards must also return backwards in this fiendishly clever, brilliant show.
In a Fringe where climate change is on the lips of so many of its participants, Belgian pioneers Ontroerend Goed, have produced the show of the Fringe, one that challenges all of us to try to put right what has come before. We start with a tree and an apple, our own Eden, but throughout the next half of the show, detritus begins to litter the stage. It starts with a balloon and before we know it colourful plastic bags and giant statues cover every inch of the stage. Paradise has been destroyed but is there some way back? Alexander Devriendt’s production tackles the big issues of today, the latest guidance in the battle with climate change is to wind back the clocks, but how much unrepairable damage has already taken place?
This question is not fully answered in the breath-taking second half, as step by step, moment by moment what has been done becomes undone. Yes, some of it can only be done by magic- the apple can’t remain unbitten- but then that magic can only become possible with a conscious effort by us all, to begin to put right the wrongs of before.
The technical accomplishment of this show is awe-inspiring, the actors bringing mastery to a physical and vocal score that asks them to play deliberately backwards. It may ask its audience to show resolute patience, but we are eventually awarded a show like any other this fringe, a technical and artistic triumph.

Illicit Thrills: Where Do We GoGo From Here- The Voodoo Rooms: The Ballroom (23:55) ☆☆☆

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There is burlesque aplenty at the Fringe but nothing that gets quite as down and filthy as Illicit Thrills: Where Do We GoGo from here. A Fringe institution, playing at the thrillingly decadent Voodoo Rooms, it’s a late-night slice of fringe that isn’t for the prudish. Yet with a powerful message to convey and with an audience who are more than ready to give themselves over to the debauchery, Illicit Thrills provides plenty more skin to the game than just a straightforward peep-show.
Though stripping may be the name of the game, each of the performers provides something different to latch onto. MC Gypsy Charms lets us in on the rules of the game and is always ready with a quip ‘I’ve got G-strings older than you son’ while giving us a blinding opening (if you see it you’ll know what I mean) to the show, while Roxy Stardust is a delight as a foul-mouthed Scottish caricature, throwing insults around with every bend and flick she struggles with. Showgirl Ivy Paige brings some old school glamour to the event, her vocals as beautifully evocative as her curves that she proudly flaunts while there is also a chance for a bit of boylesque from Impressive Johnson aka Gimpy.
This is a show that does exactly what it says on the tin, ‘giving you rude, crude and very, very nude.’ Yet in the end, these performers come together to ask us for support for what they do. There is now a public consultation of strip clubs in Edinburgh, something that could leave many out of work. This is a show that asks its audience to perve responsibly and shows that there is pride in what these performers do. Like all the best shows it allows us to empathise with the human behind the thrill-giving persona.

I Wish My Life Were Like A Musical- Underbelly, Bristro Square The Dairy Room (20:45) ☆☆☆☆

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Alexander S Bermanger can undoubtedly pen a winning melody.  I Wish My Life Were Like A Musical, is full of them, delivered with wit and charm, a sly little wink to the classics of the genre and some soaring notes, delivered with ease by its four strikingly talented performers. This cabaret, thematically linked together, provides an engaging look at what it means to be a musical theatre performer working in the industry, from gaining that first big break to playing opposite a demanding diva or finding that the enthusiastic audience member has now turned full-on stalker. For those who have ever worked in the industry, it feels all too familiar, for anyone who hasn’t, these stories will humanise those ensemble hoofers who go out and give it their all eight times a week.
Bermanger’s original compositions deliberately echo countless musicals. It’s opening number deliberately hits motif after motif from shows as varied as Les Mis to Wicked, Sweeney Todd to Blood Brothers, with a little bit of Oklahoma and Book Of Mormon to boot. It’s a show that you feel will relate to the anorak musical theatre fan with Easter Eggs aplenty. I challenge anyone to identify all the shows on a first listen.
Each of the four-strong cast each gets a moment in the spotlight. Recent Javert cover James Hume delivers an exquisite version of a show must go on number, valiantly letting us know he is fighting the flu while Andy Moss breaks your heart a little with a song all about being a permanent stand by. Charlotte Anne Steene is terrifying as the actor who eventually lands her break and becomes a fully fleshed monster diva while Charlotte O’Rourke brings the house down with the best number of the night, pinging her way around multiple styles and techniques and exquisitely singing ‘badly’ in the rather brilliant ‘I Love To Sing.’
It’s hour-long slot- condensed since its London run last year- feels just about right, leaving you wanting more without ever feeling short-changed. There are original scores aplenty at this year’s Fringe, but there is unlikely to be as many crowd-pleasers as Bermanger’s pastiche like winners.