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.
David Threlfall and Rufus Hound (Photo: Helen Maybanks)
Leave a comment | tags: Angus Jackson, Cervantes, David Threlfall, Don Quixote, Gabriel Fleary, James Fenton, Johanna Town, Laura Cubitt, Natey Jones, Nicholas Lumley, review, Richard Leeming, Rufus Hound, Stratford upon Avon, The RSC, The Swan Theatre, Timothy Speyer, Toby Olié, Will Bliss | posted in Theatre Review
THE PITMEN PAINTERS
Festival Theatre, Malvern, Monday 25th March, 2013
Lee Hall’s play gets off to a conventional start with a group of men turning up for an adult education class on Art Appreciation. They’re miners – apart from a Marxist dental engineer and a young lad who is unemployed – and their down-to-Earth plain-speaking and Geordie humour put their posh tutor in his place. It’s familiar territory, bringing to mind Educating Rita (the tutor shows them a slide, “A Titian!” Bless you! – that kind of thing), The History Boys, and also Art by Yasmina Reza. The characters – a comical bunch of contrasting types – have heated discussions about the nature and purpose of education and of art. It’s all very amusing and the comic timing is impeccable.
It’s all based on truth, a real group of working class painters from Ashington who achieved success during the 1930s and 40s. Their images are projected on screens and discussed. The pretensions of the art world are pricked and punctured, and it’s all rather engaging and enjoyable.
But, in the second act, things really get going…
Philip Correia is excellent as naive (in more ways than one) painter Oliver Kilbourn, who blossoms under Mr Lyon’s tutelage. This performance is the heart of the piece as Oliver struggles with an offer that seems too good to pass up, held back by notions of his humble origins and loyalty to his class. Correia brings sensitivity and passion to the role; his growing confidence and ability to articulate his ideas, his regret, anger and frustration at an opportunity missed. It’s entirely gripping to see and Correia is more than ably supported by Louis Hilyer as Lyon and Suzy Cooper as Lady Sutherland, Oliver’s would-be patron.
Riley Jones impresses as the young unemployed lad, on the fringes of the group. He also doubles as famous artist Ben Nicholson in a dazzling display of his versatility.
Nicholas Lumley is funny as stickler-for-rules George although most of the out-and-out funny lines go to Donald McBride’s Jimmy. Joe Caffrey brings intensity and humour to his role as the Marx-spouting dental engineer, and Catherine Dryden gets them all in a tizzy when she turns up as a life-model. Later we hear that she has abandoned her artistic pursuits – the all-too common story of opportunities forsaken. It’s a tight ensemble but for me Philip Correia is the stand-out performance.
Most of the characters survive the War and here the play becomes starkly relevant to us today in 2013. The post-war optimism of the working class in Britain has been obliterated by the likes of Thatcher and successive rotten governments (including “New” Labour). The play ends with the men looking forward to a better life for everyone after the massive sacrifices of the war, to the brand new NHS, to better aspirations for all, to nationalisation and shared ownership of the means of production… And I just sat there feeling sick and disgusted at what we had in this country and what has been taken from us and sold off, and how the people of this country have been hoodwinked and betrayed. An opportunity lost.
It’s a real kick in the teeth, perfectly delivered by director Max Roberts and Lee Hall’s script in a show that brims with warmth and humanity.
Leave a comment | tags: Catherine Dryden, Donald McBride, Joe Caffrey, Lee Hall, Louis Hilyer, Malvern Theatres, Max Roberts, Nicholas Lumley, Philip Correia, reivew, Riley Jones, Suzy Cooper, The Pitmen Painters | posted in Theatre Review