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
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Tuesday 14th April, 2015
Working in collaboration with Hull Truck, the New Vic stages this new production of the West End hit adaptation of the much-loved Ealing comedy film. Having seen both the film and the original tour, I was intrigued to see how they would stage this rather housebound story where doors and windows are very important, in the round.
The answer is: brilliantly. Patrick Connellan’s set works on different levels, so to speak. Mrs Wilberforce’s cluttered house is represented by platforms, seemingly held up by stacks of books and suitcases. The upstairs room she leases to a lodger is higher up – with a suggestion of the window and the roof and railway tracks beyond. Doors are stunted, sawn-off affairs that delineate the boundaries of one space and another and the furniture keeps us in post-war London. A flight of stairs is formed from treads that look like suitcases, adding to the cluttered look but also heightens the setting so that the farcical aspects of the plot are accentuated. Radio announcers and telephone callers pop up out of the floor. We are at a remove from reality and it works very well.
Anna Kirke is marvellous as sprightly old biddy Mrs Wilberforce, a seemingly frail and delicate and not to mention dotty character, forever bothering the police with paranoid tales of Nazis in the newsagents. Timothy Speyer’s Constable is a slice of old England and helps set the tone for the rest of the piece, although Graham Linehan’s adaptation of William Rose’s screenplay has a more modern line in gags. Speyer also appears as Mrs Tromleyton, along with a host of old ladies, not all of them female and not all of them clean-shaven. It’s a Pythonesque moment, again underlining the Britishness of the humour.
Andy Gillies is superb as One Round, a heavy who is endearingly thick. But there is menace in his physicality. Matthew Rixon, by contrast, is Major Courtney, an old-school English gent type with a fondness for frocks, in a delicious performance of suppressed camp. Matt Sutton brings energy as pill-popping Teddy Boy Harry Robinson, and the marvellous Michael Hugo brings darkness as vicious Romanian killer Louis. Hugo is deadpan for the most part, looking like Eddie Munster or Nosferatu at times and his emotional outbursts are perfectly pitched for both humour and threat.
But the night belongs to Andrew Pollard as leader of the pack, Professor Marcus, with a crazy haircut and a scarf Tom Baker’s Doctor would kill for. Pollard’s characterisation fills the stage with erudition, false good manners, and a camp sensibility. His pretensions eventually prove to be his downfall as in the second act, events take a much darker turn. Director Mark Babych handles the changes of tone expertly even though sometimes the action seems a little cramped. The crazy set becomes a hell of passing trains with their noise and their steam, and a real sense of nastiness comes into play. Suddenly the comedy is very black indeed.
The Ladykillers is an enjoyable romp with an edge of menace. It’s nostalgic and yet fresh, thanks to a very funny script, played to a tee by an ensemble of all-round excellence. The message is clearly that crime doesn’t pay, but I would urge you to beg, borrow or, yes, even steal a ticket if you have to.
Pictured left to right: Anna Kirke as Mrs Louisa Wilberforce, Andy Gillies as One-Round, Matthew Rixon as Major Courtney, Michael Hugo as Louis Harvey, Andrew Pollard as Professor Marcus and Matt Sutton as Harry Robinson during rehersals at the New Vic Theatre
Photo: The Sentinel
Leave a comment | tags: Andrew Pollard, Andy Gillies, Anna Kirke, Ealing Comedy, Graham Linehan, Hull Truck, Mark Babych, Matt Sutton, Matthew Rixon, Michael Hugo, New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Patrick Connellan, review, The Ladykillers, Timothy Speyer, William Rose | posted in Theatre Review