A new adaptation of the swashbuckling tour de force, The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas, is about to make its debut in Footscary – but fear not, says director and writer, Natasha Broadstock, for her interpretation remains true to all that the original stands for: camaraderie, loyalty, and the conflict between love and duty for these are timeless.
Broadstock’s decision to write the adaptation grew out of her love for the original work as well as her admiration for the ensuing 1973 movie in particular.
“I adored Alexandre Dumas’ gorgeous, sprawling novel of loyalty and camaraderie from a young age, as well the rollicking film versions directed by Richard Lester in the 1970s, which inspired me with their oddly appealing mixture of slapstick humour, action and poignant drama,” she says
Broadstock began the adaptation in 2001, shortly after the birth of her first child, Molly. She explains that working in the brief snatches of time that new motherhood allowed, it took her nearly a year. (Interestingly enough, Molly – who’s now 17 years old – has become an actor herself, and is one of the young stars of ABC ME’s hit television show, ‘Mustangs FC’!)
Another motivation to write was her growing disenchantment with the underwhelming audience base that indie theatre often battles. “After years of acting in esoteric independent theatre production, where it was often hard to find an audience (and not actually uncommon for the cast to outnumber the audience at some shows). I loved the story, and I had the urge to write a crowd-pleaser,” she says.
Broadstock originally wrote The 3 Musketeers to be performed outdoors, and she got close to putting it on in 2002. “But after touring as a performer in an outdoor production myself, I concluded that the practicalities of an open-air show were going to be too much for me as a producer, if I was going to direct as well,” she explains. “So the script remained on the backburner until I revamped it for indoors and decided it was about time!”
Broadstock’s adaptation retains some of Dumas’ original but, written in 1844, it is a product of its time, place and style.
“It’s a huge rambling novel – attempting to adapt the whole thing for the stage would result in a production that would make the five-hour play version of ‘Cloudstreet’ look short and snappy,” says Broadstock. “What I’ve done is incorporate the first major plotline of the novel (about the Queen’s diamonds), and the very ending.
I love the original work, but like many novels written at that time, it suffers a lot from over-exposition and poorly drawn female characters. I think the Queen is the only really interesting, three-dimensional female character in the original. So I’ve sought to add layers to the female characters, and to ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’ the plot.
One major decision was not to have Cardinal Richelieu as a character; instead, he is a shadowy presence. His evil is embodied by the characters of Milady and Rochefort.”
Broadstock has also cast gender blind. A device serving the dual purpose of practicality as well as signalling a more progressive way of looking at theatrical performance and what can be achieved with ‘out of the box’ thinking
“Preparing my adaptation for production – and faced with the usual gender imbalance found in period pieces (and, let’s be honest, in many modern pieces too) – I found myself asking how it would be if I cast this show outside the usual confines of gender,” she explains. “What if the ‘damsel in distress’ trope was actually a man? What if a musketeer or two were played by a woman? Or a non-binary actor? Isn’t gender a facet of character? Isn’t playing a gender part of playing a role? As the English director Edward Hall once said: ‘it’s amazing how little the gender of … characters matter. You just play them as people.’
I was particularly inspired by Kate Mulvany’s astonishing performance as Richard III. Watching that production, I being aware that this was a woman, in a suit, and people were referring to her as ‘he’. But then it just ceased to matter. She lit up the stage with her incredible interpretation.
So I made the decision to cast The 3 Musketeers gender-blind. I pulled together an interesting ensemble of actors, and held a workshop experimenting with different people in different roles, from which I cast the best person for each role – taking not only gender, but also ethnicity and age out the equation. I was utterly spoilt for choice!”
Broadstock had lost an actor two weeks into rehearsals (due to a family crisis) which she describes as a blow. But the casting decisions she’d already made worked in her favour and opened up a lot of options as she sought a replacement.
“I was looking for a terrific actor with an amazing presence – any gender, any age, any ethnicity,” she says. “Within two days, I had replaced a slender, elegant Caucasian Australian woman with a strapping, 6 ft 2 African American man.
I love this way of casting!
Actually, most of the surprises during rehearsals have been happy ones. I’ve been overjoyed to see my casting decisions rewarded many, many times over, as the actors embraced roles outside their ‘type’, crafting multi-layered interpretations – for example, watching Craig Cremin utterly inhabit the role of the villainous Milady, while striking sparks off Lucy Norton (playing the devious Count de Rochefort) … no caricatures in sight, just awesome acting.
And ideas have soared and ricocheted around the rehearsal room, with the words ‘How about we try this …?’ being heard constantly – particularly as the actors worked with the frenetic pace of the piece, embraced the more farcical elements, and worked out how to solve problems, such as the running joke in the script about D’Artagnan’s accent (he’s from a place in France called Gascony). Lore Burns, who’s playing the role, decided D’Artagnan would have a New Zealand accent, which works brilliantly. There’s also one scene where the Cardinal’s guards make an appearance (boo, hiss …), and the first time we rehearsed the scene, on the spur of the moment the first guard delivered his lines in a broad Irish accent – so now the four Cardinal’s guards are called Seamus, Seamus, Seamus and Dermot!
Watching this brave and sensational cast career at breakneck pace from farce to tragedy via human drama has been an amazing experience. I have been doubled over with laughter, and I have been moved to goose-bumps.”
Unsurprisingly, Broadstock is fond of non-naturalistic works. “In theatre, we’re not bound by realism; there is so much we can do to build a world that reflects the themes and emotions of the play through the creative use of lighting, costumes, sound and performance,” she says.
Broadstock admits she is often drawn to the dark side when it comes to theatre, and art generally! Some of her favourite shows as a director have been macabre and ‘twisted’ pieces, or classic tragedies. So, by her own admittance, The 3 Musketeers is an unusual choice for her.
“But it’s also a special piece for me. It’s not that my choice of themes or my style have evolved; it’s more that this is a work of literature that spoke to me from a very young age, and I’ve longed to put on an adaptation for years,” she says.
“I also like to delve into pieces that explore the human psyche, just because it fascinates me so much. And there is intriguing depth to some of the characters in ‘The 3 Musketeers’, particularly Athos and his mysterious past, and Milady: what makes her the way she is?
And I love a challenge – the frenetic pace of this piece, the farcical elements, the comedy: all of these have stretched me as a director.
But I’m sure that next year will see me back in darker realms – I’m currently exploring a piece based on Edgar Allan Poe’s writings!”
Broadstock also has a lot to say about the difficulty the world of indie theatre presents for indie theatre practitioners such as herself. Emerging companies, and their members, may learn a lot from this experienced theatre practitioner as she talks through the realities – warts and all!
“Where to start! Major issues include money, logistics and finding an audience.
Moneywise, we’re crowd funding, selling chocolates, running a bar, and I’m using some money from a previous show. I’m keeping costs to an absolute minimum, and the cast and crew are all working on a profit-share basis.
The lack of money means you have to be creative and make virtues out of problems. For example: The Bluestone Church Arts Space is an incredibly reasonably priced venue, but you have to bring in everything, including lights (and the ‘trees’ to hang the lights on). If you want the audience to be able to see the show properly, then you usually need to truck in some form of seating bank and/or staging. I’ve got around this by directing the play in a ‘three-quarter round’ – with the audience seated (mostly in a single row) in a horseshoe shape around the performance space. This means the audience can all see while they’re at ground level, so we don’t need seating banks. Also, you can’t really have much of a set in such a configuration, because it’ll block the view for some audience members. So our set is very basic. The money we’ve saved on set has been spent on costumes – which are absolutely glorious. And performing ‘in the round’ gives the piece real movement and flow, which echoes my original idea of performing it outdoors!
You rely on other people’s generosity a lot. Recently, I drove for miles to borrow some microphones from another independent theatre company; and a local community theatre group has lent us some costume pieces for a miniscule hire fee. My set builder and my front of house manager are donating their services for a bottle of wine each, because they’re amazing and supportive theatre lovers. And I’ll give back to their projects in return.
Taking on the role of producer and director, I started work on this project early. I booked the venue and started approaching key crew members in November 2017 and I began casting in January 2018. People are so generous with their time, but many independent theatre practitioners are very in demand. One actor turned up for rehearsal recently, and it was his third rehearsal that day; while another had been shooting a short film since 6 that morning! My lighting designer is working on several shows at once, including one that opens on the same day as ours.
We also have to work out how to transport the lights, and where to store them until we can get them into the venue. My car is absolutely crammed with costumes and props that need to be at every rehearsal, but which I have to unpack regularly otherwise I can’t fit my children in the car! There are so many logistical challenges.
The most important thing is getting an amazing team together – not just actors, but also lighting and sound design, costume design, lighting and sound operator, and front of house. A lot of multi-tasking happens. We’re managing without a stage manager; I’m doing the stage manager’s role in the pre-production period, and different cast members are taking on different stage management duties during the run. Cast members have also taken on various other roles, such as props making, musical arrangements and choreography. And for this show, a fight coordinator was absolutely crucial. The wonderful Scott Jackson was the first person I cast. He has organised all the fight scenes, as well as making a fabulous Porthos. (Scott tells me that his own sword-fighting instructor often tells him to do fewer flourishes … fortunately, one of the joys of playing a showy character like Porthos is that there simply cannot be too many flourishes!)
Then there’s public liability insurance, liquor licence, applying for music rights, ticketing, photography, publicity, finding cheap rehearsal spaces, working out how to get an audience when there’s so little money for publicity and marketing … My ‘to do’ list is endless!
But I love theatre, and this is what we do to put on a show in the independent theatre world.”
Dumas wrote a story that changed the world, with heroes that embodied adventure, loyalty and friendship, his work has spanned the centuries in many different guises. Broadstock’s version is a fast-paced romp through 17th-century France – a rip-roaring, gender-bending, breakneck tale of passion and intrigue, comedy and tragedy, with splashes of music. And croissants.
“This production embraces the classic novel’s themes of loyalty and camaraderie, while also delving deep into the dark side of one of its ostensible heroes, ” she says. “It’s the ultimate swashbuckling adventure … with an edge. There are swordfights. There is love and treachery. There are pop culture references, 1980s music and a touch of slapstick. And a fight scene involving a fish and a pineapple.”
All for one and one for all!
August 1 – 11
Images: Michael Foxington