Cambridge's leading amateur theatre production company

Established 1981

The Man in the Iron Mask
 by Alexandre Dumas  adapted by Alison Munro   directed by Colin Lawrence

The ADC Theatre, Cambridge, December 2005

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A Review of the Man in the Iron Mask
by Julie Petrucci

Alexandre Dumas, the author of the celebrated book from which this play is adapted, based his novel on the famous French legend of a mysterious political prisoner who was forced to wear a leather mask and who died in the Bastille in 1703 during the reign of Louis XIV.  Legend also has it that this man was Louis' twin brother Philippe.  Alison Munro's adaptation was good although the (as yet to be published) script, whilst having much to commend it, does have a few shortcomings.  She approaches the story very much tongue-in-cheek which took many in the audience by surprise.  It was clear that initially the audience weren't sure whether they were supposed to laugh or not but they soon realised they should or maybe, which was probably more the case, they couldn't help themselves.
 
A large percentage of a play's success is in the casting and here we had an excellent example of casting at its best.  Declan Lynch in the dual roles of King Louis XIV and Philippe (the Man in the Iron Mask) created a fine distinction between the two characters.  His cold and arrogant Louis was extremely easy to hate: yet, within a few brief lines, one felt great empathy for Philippe.  Dual roles are a huge challenge to any actor but Declan met the challenge most impressively.  A compelling performance.  Congratulations.

The Musketeers were marvellous; their easy relationship had one warming to them immediately.  Guy Holmes (D'Artagnan) went the swashbuckling route to great effect.  Barry Brown (Porthos) as always made the most of the comedic side of his role bringing roars of laughter from the audience.  Nick Warburton (Aramis) was totally believable as the priest who still really hankered after his musketeering life and Dave Foyle was bombastic and hugely intense as Athos.  Andy Waller made 'the baddie' Reynard worthy of a hiss and boo as he carried out the King's murderous orders without question and Colin McLean changed sides seamlessly as the ingratiating Colbert.  The play is pretty testosterone oriented but this didn't deter Suzanne Jones (Constance D'Artagnan), Lindsey McAuley (Louise de Valliere) and Tricia Peroni (Anne of Austria) who all gave excellent performances.  However, everyone's favourite couple were the keepers of the Cardinal's Inn, the Planchets, a double act if ever I saw one. Mandi Catell as Madame Planchet wielding an iron fist (not to mention rolling-pin) to keep the Inn and her husband under control was in her element and Chris Shinn's characterisation of Planchet, the narrator, coupled with his perfect timing, I think, added an extra element.

This production had a cast of 34 so, you will understand, there are too many to name; without exception however, everyone gave 100%.  The fight scenes looked horrifyingly authentic and hugely energetic drawing well deserved cheers and applause for the combatants.  The final fight to the death between D'Artagan and Reynard was absolutely breathtaking.  Without exception everyone was comfortable with swords and other weaponry.  A triumphant achievement by fight arranger Brian Richardson and the participants.

The set, designed by Tony Broscomb, was an interesting series of steps and varying levels augmented by flying in cloths for the numerous scenes.  This worked very effectively and the cast moved around all areas with confidence and ease.  Props were numerous but great attention had been paid to maintaining period, it all looked very authentic particularly the horrendous iron mask. The costumes were absolutely spot-on although some of the gentlemen's boot leggings left a bit to be desired.  I think the taller male cast members came off best there.  Congratulations to Lyn Chatterton who was in charge of wigs, some of them were quite spectacular, and they all fitted with apparent comfort.  Even in the energetic fight scenes they remained steadfastly attached to heads. 

However, none of this would have worked without expert lighting and sound from Mark Easterfield and Graham Potter respectively.  The lighting design must have been a challenge with so many different areas but it all looked splendid.  The 'fire' of the house was impressive and the sound effects of dripping water in the prison cell and the splashes as guards were thrown into the water subtle and clever.  With Andrew Booker at the Stage Manager's desk the show with its many scenes flowed seamlessly.

The script is episodic, part swashbuckler part pantomime so it held the attention of even the youngest members of the audience.  Parts of it, I felt, seemed out of place, the rhyming couplets and the 'Hide the Face' sequence being two.  Thankfully the direction was in the expert hands of Colin Lawrence and so, conversely, 'Hide the Face' narrated by the four Voices coupled with a clever sequence of movements was most atmospheric.  This most talked about and long awaited production was done with great verve and skill.  An excellent choice by Bawds, who kick-started the Christmas season with a production to remember