When a show – any show – is written, directed and acted in by the same person, it’s hard not to look on them with fascination and/or added scrutiny. In John Savourin’s case, in his festive retelling of the classic novel The Three Musketeers, which he’s turned into something completely unrecognisable: a self-labelled ’boutique pantomime’ showing in the back of North London pub, he’s at least not given himself the main part. Albeit he’s still got by a long shot the best (and funniest) character, and thus completely steals the show. We don’t think it was deliberately framed as such, and the rest of the cast do a really good job, but put simply Savourin carries it, and makes an initially uncomfortable audience at ease (given the size of the theatre and demanded interaction – “Oh no he didn’t!” and “Who wants a foam pie in the face?” etc.). There’s just no fettering the fact that as a small platform for unique and charismatic comic talent, this and probably subsequent shows will do the man in question a lot of favours, and rightly so.
As Mother Superior, a gigantic, umpteen-foot tall amply bosomed nun (was he wearing stilts underneath his habit? We’re not even sure) with a filthy, gravelly voice who oversees the nunnery where the action takes place, he’s just so funny – and it takes a while for the extent of his funniness to sink in. There are men dressed as women vying for laughs on sparkly stages up and down the country at present, but Savourin makes it feel fresh, intelligent and not at all laboured; silly and fun rather than a garish caricature.
Matthew Kellett as lead d’Artagnan is probably the second strongest player here. He’s got an immensely likeable boyishness to him – a mischievous face and silly, excitable body language – which gives his character’s coming of age story credibility: having lived as an orphan among the nuns most his life, he finds out he’s in fact heir to the throne and sets about reclaiming it with the help of the motley crew of titular characters, more about whom later. Suffice to say the story in question is not concerned with literary accuracy and that’s fine, but it makes the source material feel a little, well, immaterial. As I sat, watched and laughed I thus began to wonder how interchangeable the story could be; there’s certainly very little that’s French about the show, some game accents aside, and as such I started to wish they’d taken on a British tale, given the Carry On-style British humour. Perhaps then it would’ve amounted to a little piece of retro comic perfection. But I’ve a feeling the Charles Court Opera might’ve achieved exactly that once or twice in the past and will do again.
Taking on the musketeer roles are Lexi Hutton, Amy J Payne and Nichola Jolley. Not quite drag kings, but making a success of such characters requires gusto and, essentially, a lack of vanity: all the girls were good but I’d single out Nichola Jolley here. She’s gorgeous in real life but in the show she seems utterly unconcerned with how she looks; when she repeatedly tries to seduce a lonely, latently man-hungry Mother Superior (who’s twice Jolley’s height), she does so with zany, surreal confidence, providing some of the funniest moments of the show. The rest of the cast comparatively hold back somewhat, when they really need to go bigger, brasher, and make the biggest fools of themselves they can.
Elsewhere, a house band – though comprised of only a couple of musicians crammed into tiny raised pockets on an inventively designed little stage – further raise the quality of the show. Playful and original with an utterly reasonable ticket pricing structure, The Three Musketeers is an absolute winner.