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The Three Musketeers to be Dukes Theatre’s summer production

PUBLISHED: 00:00 28 June 2018

Lancaster's Ashton Memorial is the perfect backdrop for The Dukes outdoor productions.

Lancaster's Ashton Memorial is the perfect backdrop for The Dukes outdoor productions.

Archant

This year’s thrilling open air drama at Lancaster’s Williamson Park will have a 21st century twist, writes Louise Brynning.

The Dukes Community Company who will appear alongside the professional cast in The Three MusketeersThe Dukes Community Company who will appear alongside the professional cast in The Three Musketeers

Swashbuckling isn’t just for the chaps, as the audiences will discover when they head for Lancaster’s Williamson Park for this year’s outdoor promenade shows.

There, they will be treated to a thrilling version of The Three Musketeers with a twist – many of the heroes of the drama will actually be heroines. ‘In 2018, the centenary of women’s emancipation, it feels right to give this classic tale a feminist twist,’ says Sarah Punshon who, as The Dukes Artistic Director, will be taking the reins of the outdoor shows for the first time this summer.

For Sarah, who joined The Dukes in spring 2017 shortly after becoming a mum for the first time, it will literally be a stroll in the park as she lives very close to the outdoor venue.

For her first foray, Sarah has chosen to direct the classic Alexander Dumas story with a woman’s touch in more ways than one.

Fight directors Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown of RC-Annie during a teaching session.Fight directors Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown of RC-Annie during a teaching session.

‘D’Artagnan is told she can’t fulfil her life’s ambition to become a musketeer because she’s a girl, so she sets out to prove everyone wrong,’ says Sarah.

Playing D’Artagnan will be Lucy Parkinson, who is no stranger to wearing the trousers. She is also known as the drag king, LoUis CYfer, a past winner of Drag Idol UK.

The audience will join D’Artagnan as she teams up with the legendary Three Musketeers in a death-defying quest to save the life of a loving queen. And two of those three musketeers will also be women, including Helen Katamba who is from Lancaster.

The musketeers have learnt their swashbuckling skills from female fight directors, Ruth Cooper-Brown and Rachel Bown-Williams of London’s RC-Annie training school. They have worked with theatres nationwide including the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National.

The Dukes has been producing outdoor theatre since 1987.The Dukes has been producing outdoor theatre since 1987.

They are thought to be the country’s only fight-directing duo and are among only a handful of women earning a full-time living from fight direction in the UK.

They are making their Dukes park show debut alongside the playwright Hattie Naylor who has been nominated in the Olivier Awards for outstanding achievement in theatre and will be giving a modern twist to the story of 17th century French intrigue.

Joining the professional cast will be a ‘community company’ who, also for the first time in a park show, will feature people of all ages.

In previous years, young people from The Dukes youth theatre have supported the professional actors but the opportunity has been offered to all ages this year following the success of last autumn’s community play, Blackout about the impact of Storm Desmond on North Lancashire.

And keeping the community company in check is Assistant Director Shona Thompson from Lancaster who has been involved with The Dukes since joining the youth theatre ten years ago.

She was instrumental in founding the theatre’s company for homeless people – Alternative Outcomes – and since then she has been a Young Producer for a London 2012 Cultural Olympiad Legacy project and was a crew member on the CBBC adaptation of The Snow Queen broadcast at Christmas. Recently, she has also been accepted in the ITV talent pool for producers.

Shona is actually younger than The Dukes park shows which have been taking place since 1987.

Manchester’s Nisa Cole, best known for BBC1’s Waterloo Road will be returning to the Dukes as Constance, D’Artagnan’s wife. In summer 2012, to mark the 400th anniversary of the Lancashire Witches trial in Lancaster, The Dukes staged Sabbat in their Round theatre when the role of Jennet Preston was played by Nisa.

Over the past three decades, more than half a million people have been entertained by The Dukes in Williamson Park, making it the biggest outdoor walkabout theatre season in the UK.

And the quality of the productions was recognised by the UK Theatre Awards in 2016 when its version of The Hobbit won the accolade of Best Show for Children and Young People.

‘The Dukes park show is an extraordinary tradition – more than 30 years of making memories for generations of families. I’m excited to be able to put my own twist on such a unique format,’ adds Sarah.

Just the ticket

The Three Musketeers runs from July 3-August 18 at 7.15pm (excluding some Sundays and Mondays) and is recommended for all adventurers aged five and over. For more information and to book, visit www.dukes-lancaster.org or ring The Dukes Box Office on 01524 598500.

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