The landscaped splendour of Lancaster’s Williamson Park provides such a striking backdrop for open-air theatre that it’s no surprise that the Dukes has been decamping there for the summer for more than 30 years.
But some clever touches from director Sarah Punshon and her creative team and a general sense of good-natured, knockabout fun means that the cast are never upstaged by their idyllic location.
Hattie Naylor’s adaptation cheerfully fillets the plot from Alexandre Dumas’ tale while retaining its innate sense of adventure. A twist which sees a female D’Artagnan (a likeable and plucky performance by actor and drag king Lucy Jane Parkinson) hiding her gender from her Parisian friends and foes adds a welcome extra dimension to a familiar story and allows a celebration of diversity that never feels preachy or heavy-handed. This is helped enormously by a game cast, with Christopher Bianchi standing out in contrasting roles as D’Artagnan’s genial equine companion Planchet and a dryly villainous Cardinal Richelieu.
An audience of 500 is marshalled between the four locations with remarkable aplomb, but some momentum is inevitably lost in the transition from place to place. There’s also not a huge amount of story played out across the show’s generous running time.
But the crowd are fully immersed and swept along by the time they get to the climatic royal ball, which sees the steps of the Ashton Memorial bathed in orange light, and geed up by an inventive mix of the Clash, Spice Girls and Outkast and the infectious antics of Delme Thomas’ comically camp King Louis.