Thursday, October 03, 2013

“All For One, One For All”

On our final evening in Stratford, we attended a performance of “The Three Musketeers”, a stage adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas novel by Peter Raby, one-time dramaturge at The Stratford Festival.

Raby’s adaptation, from 1968, is not good, and I cannot imagine why The Stratford Festival continues to revive the adaptation from time to time (Raby’s “Three Musketeers” had earlier been revived in 1988 and 2000).

Act I, which goes on forever, is mostly exposition, while Act II, which also goes on forever, is an attempt to cover Dumas’s themes (such as they are).

“The Three Musketeers” has integrity only if presented as pure adventure yarn (the Richard Lester movies, in my opinion, captured the necessary tone to perfection). If a writer tries to make sense of the plot, or attempts to lend “depth” to the proceedings by presenting the story in political terms, the enterprise is doomed to fail.

Raby’s adaptation assiduously—and unsuccessfully—attempts to explain the background of the conflict between Britain and France that led to the siege of La Rochelle, on which much of the plot hinges. Far too much attention is devoted to the presentation of “back-story” and other pseudo-historic incidentals, such as explanations for the significance of Anne Of Austria’s diamonds, while far too little attention is paid to the motivations of key personages, such as Cardinal Richelieu. Scene by scene, Richelieu is portrayed as dark villain one moment and noble saint the next, surely a confusing state of affairs for anyone unfamiliar with the story—and much the same goes for the other figures borrowed from history. Theatergoers entering the auditorium without advance knowledge of the plot would have been unable to make sense of the complications and contradictions, and would have thrown their hands up in despair only minutes into the action.

Raby’s adaptation is so poor that I cannot imagine a competent stage director agreeing to touch the thing—and it was clear, five minutes into the performance, that The Stratford Festival in fact had not managed to engage a competent director. The blocking was poor (of the “line ‘em up side-by-side and have ‘em face the audience” school), the casting was bizarre (the Louis XIII and Anne Of Austria had to be seen to be believed), and the “acting” was execrable (total ineptitude coupled with what I would call “vamping”, a peculiarly-unpleasant combination). The Stratford “Three Musketeers” was one of the worse things I have ever seen.

Approximately one-third of the audience failed to return after intermission. We would have departed, too, but we had nowhere to go other than to return to our hotel—so we sat through the whole thing, trying for three hours to figure out why The Stratford Festival had not pulled the plug on this deplorable production early in the rehearsal period.

“The Three Musketeers” had been intended to provide a boost to the Festival’s box office this season, but we were told—accurately or no—that the production had not been bringing in the customers as expected. Apparently word-of-mouth about the production has been negative, in Canada and in the U.S., and prospective audience members have been warned off or scared off.

For us, “The Three Musketeers” provided a disappointing conclusion to the Festival. We had not expected much from “The Three Musketeers”—but we HAD expected something minimally competent and minimally enjoyable. Neither competence nor enjoyment was delivered.

One thing I can predict with some confidence: the Raby adaptation will never again be revived at Stratford.

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