When Miguel de Cervantes first wrote Don Quixote, he did not expect for it to become such an enormous hit. This classic in world literature has gone on to become the second most translated book in all the world; only being beaten by the Bible! And not only that, Don Quixote has inspired so many adaptations in the form of musical dramas, plays, and even films. It indeed has become a foundation in the history of literature and art.
Now, James Fenton‘s recent version is turning into a huge hit! Initially produced in 2016, Don Quixote at the Garrick Theatre is a refreshingly new, delightful and joyous rendition that every theatre enthusiast, either new or old, will enjoy.
Despite still wonderfully hanging on to its original undertones and founding themes, Fenton’s wonderful adaptation allows for a modern feel; something contemporary audiences will very quickly love and enjoy.
We all know that when The Royal Shakespeare Company produces a show, it tends to produce magic; and it’s fair to say that James Fenton has done a marvelous job of taking a narrative-heavy story down into three hours of bright and music filled joy.
Playing the lead, Don Quixote himself, we have David Threlfall. No stranger to the RSC and perhaps best known for his portrayal of Frank Gallagher in Channel 4’s Shameless and Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This. And with debutant Rufus Hound (One Man, Two Guvnors, Wind in the Willows and What the Butler Saw) the pair make a formidable team.
Right from the start, you are introduced to the two wonderful characters which bring a whole sense of familiarity; as if you have known them for a long time. Quixote is quite deluded and seeks to bring the age of romantic chivalry back to Spain along with his fun and illiterate squire, Sancho Panza. Fenton has perfectly been able to incorporate all of the familiar episodes we have come to love and enjoy from the original text: we get to see the Don Quixote fighting windmills, mistaking flocks of sheep for armies and liberating galley slaves, who then turn on him!
However, it is not just Fenton’s brilliant writing that makes this play what it is. Angus Jackson directs a new perfect production alongside an absolutely flawless cast. Of course, both David Threlfall and Rufus Hound both work perfectly together. They dominate their roles – as if the roles were written for them all those years ago. Their natural comedic timing leaves everyone in the audience with a grin all show long.
It is not just the leading actors that make this show great either. The supporting cast is similarly hilarious and versatile. They keep up perfectly with the quick-paced action and occasional musical intervals allowing them to demonstrate good vocal skills. There is not a second of the play that does not work well. Like a perfect scarf, every scene is woven tightly together to become a furiously funny and extremely exhilarating experience. Don Quixote is not an easy book to adapt to the stage – given its length and episodic nature – but this production nails it. This is comedy at its finest.
We have to also call out Eleanor Wyld for her incredible support as a woman forced to defend her un-wished-for beauty, and Ruth Everett, who plays an exploitative Duchess like a wide-eyed, over-wound mechanical doll. Even if Don Quixote, once described as “the great pattern book of fiction”, resists total adaptation, it is here rendered with a palpable and infectious love and loyalty.
Alongside the cast, the production as a whole has us all on our knees. Angus Jackson makes use of every possible theatrical device: puppetry, comic props, improvised comedy and music by Grant Olding that gives the action a Hispanic resonance. There is even, at the end of the first act, a shocking echo of King Lear when Threlfall’s deranged Don Quixote strips off his clothes and is transported home in a cage.
The original novel itself is a complex piece of literature with so many challenging aspects to pull out. And yet Fenton has done it flawlessly in this beautiful interpretation. There are frequent, witty and charming interactions with the audience that help to break the feeling of self-awareness that is oh so present in the original, and the ultimately tragic nature of the title character’s plight can be felt throughout. The theatre always has that kind of effect on people though, doesn’t it? And that is why we book tickets. You cannot watch this production and not feel desperately sorry for Don Quixote and Sancho Panza and yet never being able to stop laughing.
Other members of the audience who joined us described it as “fast-paced”, “excellent”, “magically done”, “it’s funny, it’s charming” and “it will uplift you – it will really make you laugh.” And quite frankly, we have to agree with all of these comments entirely.
There was a smile on everyone’s face upon leaving the theatre and that is the effect that this production has on people; it is a humorous and yet soul touching story that is indeed a joy to behold.