This Royal Shakespeare Company production is based on the novel by Miguel de Cervantes, published in two parts in 1605 and 1615, telling the story of Don Quixote de la Mancha, a noble man who decides to bring the age of chivalry back to Spain. He embarks on a quest to become a knight errant – a roving chivalrous knight engaging in quests of valour and honour along with his squire Sancho Panza to whom he promises the governorship of an island in return for his service. The “comedy” of the novel is that Don Quixote has been driven so mad by reading of the historic knights that he exaggerates all situations he finds himself in to create quests for himself. The most famous scene is where he believes a row of windmills to be giants for him to slay.
The novel has a very strong element of the ridiculous to it and this production seeks to run with that. There are parts of the show that are laugh out loud funny but too often it goes over the top into a pointless silliness. In an early scene here is a joke with bread rolls that I thought would never end. This show has followed Young Frankenstein into The Garrick and seems to be attempting something of the Mel Brooks’ humour of that show mixed with some of the over the top elements of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. At times it works but too often it does not.
This is not a musical, but a play with songs. The orchestra are good and the music is evocative of the Spanish setting. However the songs are so incidental to the piece and instantly forgettable that they feel pointless. At one point I am convinced that they are only there to allow Don Quixote the time to get his armour on and off.
David Threlfall plays the titular Don Quixote in a manner so bumbling and hesitant that at times I am convinced he has forgotten his lines. Threlfall is a brilliant actor but the character is so ludicrous that it is impossible to empathise with or ultimately care about him. There is excellent staging which demands a huge amount of physicality from Threlfall who delivers brilliantly.
Rufus Hound as Sancho Panza is fabulous. He doesn’t so much break the 4th wall as dismantle it and make the front row of the audience part of the ensemble.
Richard Leeming as “Boy” threatens to steal the show in every scene he is in. From where I am sitting he resembles a very young Wallace Shawn in the Princess Bride and should by rights have a stellar comedy career ahead of him.
The puppetry and puppeteers are brilliant. The representation of Quixote’s horse and Panza’s ass with different cast members is a master stroke and very, very funny.
Unfortunately, despite some excellent performances, great staging and a strong ensemble, the show never quite ignites, although the fire alarm going off may suggest otherwise! This situation was handled superbly by Hound and actually added to the humour of the evening.
Reviewed by Emma Heath
Photo: Manuel Harlan