Tag Archives: Laura Cubitt

Quest for Laughs


The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 13th April, 2016


Not only did Shakespeare pop his clogs 400 years ago this year but so did Cervantes, author of the original novel on which this play – and modern fiction! – is based.  To commemorate the Spaniard’s deathiversary the RSC has mounted this fiery steed of a production, a new adaptation by James Fenton.

Elderly and infirm, Don Quixote decides to put in to practice what has been his lifetime’s study, namely the chivalric code of the knights of old.  It’s never too late to reinvent yourself, it appears.  Off he goes, from adventure to adventure, but when reality clashes with his ideals, we are amused but he is undaunted; his code of conduct will not allow him to complain or be deterred by setbacks.  And so the will of the old man gradually begins to impose itself on the world – in particular his upholstered squire, Sancho Panza.  The story becomes a lesson in how to handle those with dementia, meeting them in their misperceptions – up to a point.

It is riotously funny and performed with theatrical brio, you have no option but to enjoy it from the off.  As Sancho Panza, Rufus Hound warms us up with a bit of ad lib banter – this is not so much audience participation as audience involvement.  Willingly, we follow Sancho and his knight on their journey, buying into the artifice of the conventions in play and relishing the inventiveness of the enterprise as well as the gusto of the performers.  Hound is practically perfect for this.

As the unsinkable Quixote, David Threlfall gives a Lear-worthy portrayal, in a physically demanding role – he gets beaten repeatedly, snatched up into the air by the sails of a windmill, and generally runs around in an apparently tireless fashion.  Above all though – and I don’t just mean when he’s on the windmill – he engages us with the old man’s world-view.  How romantic and exciting the mundane becomes through his eyes, when two flocks of sheep become opposing armies and when windmills become marauding giants.

The rest of the cast dash around in multiple roles.  Richard Leeming makes an impression as a dozy boy servant (and later as Quixote’s horse); Nicholas Lumley delights as the Priest appropriating mucky literature; Gabriel Fleary gives a hilarious turn as the Biscayan, strutting and fretting before a fight; Natey Jones’s sowgelder, Timothy Speyer and Will Bliss as barbers… Everyone gets their turn.  I could append the cast list and have done with it.

There are songs throughout, plenty of Spanish guitar, to add flavour.  The period comes across through the costumes – there is very little in the way of set apart from what the cast brings on and takes off.  Inventive use is made of trapdoors throughout.  Johanna Town’s lighting gives us Spanish sunshine as well as evoking the changing locations and moods of this episodic narrative.  Angus Jackson’s direction keeps the action flowing at speed, with more reflective moments during which his two leading men are nothing short of a joy to behold.

The icing on this delightful cake comes in the form of babies, sheep, and a lion, from puppet-master Toby Olie and Laura Cubitt.  Irresistible.

There are moments when a Pythonesque sensibility comes to the fore, and we venture into Holy Grail territory but then you have to remember how influential Cervantes is.  The windmill has turned full circle.

An unadulterated pleasure from start to finish, this new Don Quixote is the must-see of the RSC’s current season.

Don Quixote RSC

David Threlfall and Rufus Hound (Photo: Helen Maybanks)


Out of the Blue


Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Wednesday 27th February, 2013

The audience is invited to ‘explore the performance space’ up to an hour before the performance.  People trickled into the studio space at Warwick Arts Centre, to find the seating set out in-the-round.  The central area was paved with white, oblong stones, an uneven patio.  Between the cracks, thin cylindrical lamps on spindly stands of different heights, fade on and off.  Cine projectors on the paving stones project monochrome movies of water on stones standing on their edges.  Around the walls, above our heads, huge screens display images of clouds in an ever-changing skyscape.  There is a soundscape, atonal, some sounds from nature, some more musical or artificial in origin.  People trickle in.  Rather than take their seats, they walk around this ‘installation’ with the po-faced serious of poseurs in an art gallery.  Rather than looking at it, they have to be seen to look at it.  I begin to have misgivings: have I wandered into a pretentious pose-fest?  If we had been told to “come and have a gander” perhaps the approach might have been different.

Thankfully, the worst poseurs are few in number.  Most people just come in.

Ten minutes before show time, the actor/performer walks onto the paved area.  With her is a fragile-looking whippet.  They stand around.  She puts the whippet to bed in a basket of animal skins.  She goes from projector to projector, switching them off and laying the stones flat.  She stands around for a bit more.  She moves to an adjustable stool at the centre.  It begins.

To my relief, it’s actually very engaging.  The performer, Laura Cubitt, has a pleasant, confident voice.   “A wide, blue, cloudless, perfect sky,” she says and then proceeds to list things you might see.  “Sheep,” she says.  “Pigeons.” “The smell of catshit in a sandpit.”  There’s a this, she says.  There’s a that.  On and on, the list goes.  Everything she mentions is instantly familiar and imaginable.  Her words are captions for the pictures she puts in our heads.  There is no plot.  There are no characters.  It is a list of things, some of them picturesque, some of them horrible (There’s a mouse with its nose caught in a trap; its back legs twitch as it tries to pull itself free…) but all of them within the realms of our imagination.  I can’t help thinking she would be just as effective, perhaps more so, without the artsy-fartsy set and the atonal soundscape.  Alone in a spotlight, she could evoke the same images just as well.

There is a break, a brief blackout.  She begins again, framing the list in recollection of her childhood home in the countryside.  Now instead of “There is” it is “There used to be…”  We recognise the items listed from the first part, but the images are consigned to the past.  She is cancelling the pictures out, one-by-one, as she recalls what there used to be.  Eventually you think, with all of these things gone, what’s left?

It is at that point, the very end, that you appreciate the set.  Nature has been elbowed out by man’s encroachment on the land.

Not my usual sort of theatrical fare, but I felt its impact just the same.  Its effect is cumulative.  Our loss of the countryside, our distancing from the natural world is a gradual process.  The show uses the idea of memory to make its point.  A worthwhile experience that got beyond my cynicism and my distaste for anything pretentious.  I will look out for future work from Fevered Sleep.

above me the wide blue sky