Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Ailsa Joy: The Three Musketeers

By | Published on Sunday 29 July 2018

The latest promenade performance to take place over at The Actors’ Church in Covent Garden is a new production by Iris Theatre of ‘The Three Musketeers’. It sounds like they’ve tweaked the story a bit, though, because D’Artagnan’s being played by a woman.

I spoke to Ailsa Joy, who plays the villainous Milady in the show, to find out more.

CM: For those not aware of the story, can you start by telling us a bit about the narrative of the show – what happens, and when is it set?
AJ: Alexandre Dumas’ ‘The Three Musketeers’ is set in the early 1600s, as is ours, but with a few present day touches. The Musketeers are the most gallant, adventurous, romantic and headstrong soldiers in Paris— and our hero d’Artagnan arrives with a dream of becoming one herself. The only problem is that just men can become Musketeers. So d’Artagnan decides to turn up in disguise.

CM: What are the primary themes of the show?
AJ: Bravery and honour, definitely. And the strength of women.

CM: It’s an old story, of course – in what ways do you think it has relevance for modern audiences?
AJ: ‘The Three Musketeers’ is such a glorious adventure story. Honestly, you just want to link arms with Athos, Aramis, Porthos and d’Artagnan and become part of the gang. I think modern audiences love being invited into a story and getting lost in a world. Friendship and loyalty are eternally relevant. In the book, things are rather black and white when it comes to the villains whereas our version is a little more Good vs Not-so-Good. No one’s born evil but the world can make you a monster if you’re not careful.

CM: Can you tell us about your role? What’s your character like, and what do you like about her?
AJ: Milady is an assassin and dogsbody to Cardinal Richelieu. All actors love playing villains I think because you’re forced to work harder! Even the worst people in the world who commit awful crimes, they still feel like the hero of their own story. So, I love getting to scrabble about in the brain of someone really dangerous. She’s so careful and so delicate right up until she kills someone and then she fights dirty.

CM: What is the reasoning behind the ‘re-gendering’ of D’Artagnan? Is there a specific point to be made?
AJ: Well, for instance, in the book Dumas writes about Milady so beautifully and with such detail— she’s as complex as any of the Musketeers. But then he sort of ruins it by saying “she’s like a man.” Even the lovely heroine Constance goes from being an intrepid intriguer for the Queen to someone’s general love interest. So the writer Dan Winder has done a great job building those characters up as the formidable women they are. Our director Paul-Ryan Carberry says he was never interested in the boys club of the Musketeers; in this script, the stakes are so much higher if you make d’Artagnan a woman. She gets to break all the rules in the way a young man in the same era wouldn’t. Women dressing as men is such a great literary tradition from Shakespeare and Cervantes to Middleton and Aphra Behn.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the rest of the cast?
AJ: There’s seven of us in total. I hugely admire everyone’s physicality. I struggle to take a character out of my head and put them in my body, so to speak, whereas this cast can put on other people’s skin so easily. There are some gifted comedians. Our rehearsal room has been baking hot all of July but we’ve still managed to fall about laughing as we put scenes on their feet and sweated our way through elaborate sword-fights. It’s a lovely, funny, hard-working ensemble.

CM: How does the fact that it’s a promenade performance affect the way you approach a role, is there much that is different about it?
AJ: We want an audience to be able to vanish into Paris and La Rochelle so being able to literally take them into different parts of St Paul’s Church helps a lot. But by the same token, it’s easy to lose momentum. I’m lucky that, as Milady, I get to address the audience and hopefully make them feel welcome and willing to travel with us. I appreciate it’s a big ask (especially for people less able to stand) so I hope we’re able to make every move feel necessary and all part of the adventure.

CM: Tell us a bit about yourself now – did you always want to work in the theatre, and how did you get to this point in your career?
AJ: I was very lucky in being taken to the theatre by my parents and to a broad spectrum of genres— Shakespeare at the RSC, modern comedies, West End musicals, kitchen-sink dramas— so I wanted to do everything. Unbelievably, I got into drama school aged 19 then spent three years having my idea of acting totally turned on its head. A few of my year went onto stardom but most of us sort of muddled through. I discovered acting isn’t really like a ladder, in terms of career, it’s more like jumping from one lily pad to another. I always worried that people would cast me as “nice middle-class girls” but extraordinarily I’ve managed to avoid being typecast so far. I’ve done a Christmas show, American comedy in the West End, Shakespeare on a cruise ship and a TV sitcom to name a few. An opportunity to be in ‘The Three Musketeers’, for an actor, is so exciting. A character like Milady doesn’t come along every day.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
AJ: It’d be a childhood dream to perform at the RSC, even as Third Spear-carrier from the left! There’s so much well-written comedy across theatre and TV that I’d love to be part of. I wish someone would revive Tom Stoppard’s ‘Rock’n’Roll’ so I could be in it, but that’s probably a lot to ask of somebody!

CM: What’s coming up for you after this?
AJ: Very appropriately, I’m off to Paris after this show. Less appropriately, it’s to see U2 in concert.


The Three Musketeers is on at St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden from 2 Aug-2 Sep. See this page here for info and to book your tickets.

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Photo: Michael Shelford