I remember fondly one of the very last outings I went on before the world was turned upside down: Saturday 7 March 2020, closing night of Be More Chillat the Annex Theatre, University of Southampton.
It’s only about six weeks ago, but it feels like at least a year has passed. Therefore, I couldn’t possibly call this a review because I couldn’t be objective (can anyone ever be, really?) – that night is already rose-tinted with nostalgia. So I would like to offer my apologies for the delay, Showstoppers – I got majorly distracted, I hope you understand… but I’m here now, ready to sing (not half as well as you) your praises.
John Hansard Gallery and Turner Sims are both exploring ways to focus their energies within the digital sphere, seeking to animate online spaces to bring you inspiring art and culture. Alongside this, Arts at University of Southampton’s digital channels will be dedicated to sharing with you the best of the arts to be accessed remotely. We’ll also be inviting the talented creatives and artists in our own team to contribute ideas and showcase their practice.
A well-known figure in the Southampton arts scene, as well as an Artist Facilitator for the University of Southampton-led project Connecting Culture (focused on understanding the impact of the arts on Southampton-based young people aged 5-25), Anna Carr is a theatre maker who works across different platforms to create autobiographical theatre experiences.
Kindred is one such experience. The self-produced show, exploring the story of Carr’s grandparents and seeking to understand the harrowing experience of abuse undergone by her grandmother, was part of the a celebration of Sotonian theatre, the Make it SO Festival. The festival took place in NST City’s Studio space across most of February and showcased 19 ‘work-in-progress’ productions, proving just how much exciting theatre is being made locally.
I didn’t know what to expect heading into the NST for Le Navet Bete’s production of Dumas’ classic The Three Musketeers. Subtitled ‘A Comedy Adventure’ and with a poster with some rather striking facial expressions and a BMX, I wasn’t sure whether I was about to watch the actual musketeers being heroic or four men running around in musketeer outfits for children’s enjoyment.
As it turned out, it was definitely more of the latter, but without the negative connotation – I enjoyed the running around perhaps more than the children. The classic, exhibitionistic comedy acting was finely interlaced with a sterling production, and a script which is both timely and timeless. In a Nuffield Southampton Theatres spring season filled with literary adaptations, this production does not beat around the bush when it comes to questions of adapting a literary text and tailoring it to their audience. The apparently necessary aspect of historical and textual accuracy is dropped from the very beginning, when the four actors present themselves to their audience out of costume, breaking the fourth wall and clarifying that the production does not claim to hold the ultimate understanding of the 700-page novel, but just wants have as much fun with it as possible, without taking itself very seriously.
Whether or not this is a recipe for a great adaptation is a completely different, less fun conversation with likely no verdict whatsoever. The only conclusion I can get to is that it’s definitely a recipe for roaring laughter. The four actors were a delight to watch, having the time of their lives on stage, flawlessly switching between characters with quick changes of costume, and even when the changes weren’t as smooth as they should have been they acted so naturally that I doubted whether or not the mistake was actually planned. Stand-out characters were Madame De Winter, Cardinal Richelieu, and D’Artagnan, played with fantastic consistency throughout, but every single change of costume brought a fresh round of raucous laughter, whether caused by an oblivious Lord Buckingham or a vindictive nun. The sheer amount of events happening and the relations between all the characters were confusing, but instead of running away from this, Le Navet Bete flipped it on its head, aware of just how much was happening and having the characters explain things they did not understand themselves.
engagement was a huge positive part of the show. The fourth wall, removed from
the very beginning of the play, never returned, with the actors thriving when
improvising reactions to the audience’s own. The funniest moment of the show
required the audience to throw plush ducks at Madame De Winter as she was
proving her hunting skills to Lord Buckingham. The willingness of the actors to
improvise and the natural manner in which they did it really elevated the show.
production value was also outstanding, from a simple yet versatile set, to the
similarly versatile costumes. The stage was a constant whirlwind of moving
props, flying costumes, and musketeers riding bikes instead of horses – and
whilst it may have seemed quite natural, it required calculated coordination
and elaborate choreography that did not go unnoticed. However, it was the sound
that truly enhanced the comedic effect. For instance, if the shotgun sounds
didn’t play exactly as Madame De Winter was ‘shooting’ the plush ducks, the
effect of that scene would have been significantly diminished. The sterling
synchronization between sound effects and the onstage acting deserved a
standing ovation in itself.
Overall, The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure was a witty, self-aware show, unafraid of tapping into the childish side of all the audience members – children or adults – of questioning its own script, or of pushing the limits of what onstage performance is: if you get a line wrong, acknowledge it and do it again, it might make the whole scene funnier that it was meant to be intentionally!
Le Navet Bete provided a complete escape from the worries of everyday life – I laughed more than I have in a long time, and isn’t that what we all need?
The Three Muskateers: A Comedy Adventure ran atNST City from Tuesday 18 – Saturday 22 February 2020.
Third year Music student Molly Ellis tells of the impact the arts have had on her life here at University of Southampton and looks ahead to the next few months in her role as Arts Ambassador.
I had such a good time working as an Arts Ambassador last year that, when the opportunity came up again, I couldn’t not apply! Last year, I had a blast reviewing theatre, art exhibitions and concerts, attending events and networking with both my peers and professionals in the industry. This last year has really opened my eyes as to what kind of future could be possible in the arts beyond university.
This year I hope to continue working to promote the arts to both my fellow students and the local community. It’s so important for students to understand that the arts you’re involved with at university could pave the way to a career, regardless of your degree. Showing that the gap between the ‘student’ and ‘professional’ worlds is not that wide is something I’m really keen to do – exploring these possibilities and networking is what university is all about!
As a third year music student, the arts have shaped pretty much my entire time at University. I’ve been lucky enough to start shaping my passions for music, theatre and filmmaking into the beginnings of a future beyond graduation- something I’m incredibly excited about.
I’m a freelance filmmaker and photographer and have had the pleasure of working with some amazing groups, such as SÓN and SUSO, and on some cinematography passion projects- one of which has just been accepted for screening at the Canadian International Comedy Film Festival!
I am also a Musical Director for musical theatre society Showstoppers after joining last year (on the advice of previous Arts Ambassador Ben McQuigg). I soon found myself stuck in with nearly every show and my first as Musical Director, ‘I Love You Because’, is coming up at the beginning of February! Getting stuck in with all of these activities across a breadth of arts topics has been an incredible experience, and has really extended the scope of skills learnt during my degree. I encourage absolutely everyone to get involved with at least one arts passion they have during their degree!
Being an Arts Ambassador for me is about both being a role model for participation and engagement with the arts, but also being a gateway to helping others access the arts, particularly those that think ‘it’s not for me’. There’s a wealth of things out there to explore in Southampton and beyond!