IN BRIEF A joyous, madcap journey with our deluded hero touches on frailty and loss in a show shot through with humanity, showcasing a great central performance.
Perhaps like you, I have not read Miguel Cervantes original story, but this production is probably the most effective (and entertaining) distillation of the work we shall see. Making an audience dream with you is a difficult ask, but the fantastic elements shine through in this loving adaptation by James Fenton enacted by an assured cast of 20.
The story? After a lifetime of reading books on the romance of chivalry, an eccentric old man embarks on a ramshackle quest to become a wandering knight, accompanied by his faithful and equally ill-suited servant, Sancho Panza. The self-styled Don Quixote sets out on a hilarious journey across medieval Spain, defending the helpless and vanquishing the wicked. Hopelessly unprepared and increasingly losing his grip on reality, we share his efforts to achieve his romantic ideal.
David Threlfall is superb as Don Quixote, capturing an other-worldliness in the man which is at once captivating and challenging. On stage for most of the running time, this is a very demanding role, and Threlfall plays it with such palpable commitment and sincerity that his demise is genuinely affecting. Rufus Hound as Sancho Panza fully inhabits the fat suit of his character as well as his personality. He acts as the bridge between the audience and the action, fantasy and reality. Messrs Threlfall and Hound clearly have a special rapport which charmingly underscores their playing and gives the relationship credibility.
The first act has an overextended “warm up” by Mr Hound, and after this the first act occasionally lurches into farce -with audience participation- to bring us on board, but it does not prepare us for the change of mood in the second act where Quixote finally succumbs to the realities of human frailty. Quixote’s death is poetically achieved in a memorable scene which stilled the audience totally.
The music which peppers the show is charming and “in character” but perhaps a few too many numbers? (The overall show is about 15 minutes too long in my opinion.) Staging using a simple set is very effective and the design renders a usefully quirky quality to the whole show, with the wooden horses a particular highlight.
With our contemporary fixations on Alzheimer’s and dementia, it is easy to see how this adaptation of the story drills a direct line into our consciousness and renders a charming fable up into a scorching yet tender reminder of our own mortality.
Finally, this DON QUIXOTE’s finest gift is that it poignantly reminds us that magic is wherever we choose to see it. I, and the audience I was with, loved it.