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Don Quixote

Miguel de Cervantes, adapted by Pablo Ley and Colin Teevan
West Yorkshire Playhouse
(2007)

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Don Quixote has lost his reason, and with such a large challenge to surmount in this production, the writers have bitten off a more than reasonable chunk. That said, this is a highly rewarding production for those who know Don Quixote, and an invigorating introduction for those who don't.

Don Quixote maps out the gallivanting tale of the 17th century Alonso Quixano who reads too many tales of heroic chivalry, becomes somewhat 'enchanted' by them and comes to believe himself to be a knight errant. He renames himself Don Quixote and, mounting his old nag Rocinante, leaves the safety of his home to roam the countryside with his squire Sancho Panza (Tony Bell), saving damsels in distress and, most famously, battling windmills which he believes to be giants.

Not content with giving themselves the considerable challenge of adapting the first volume of Cervantes' tale, the second half of the play takes on Volume Two. This seems madness indeed. But the real madness that Ley and Teevan illustrate is the loss of place for old world chivalry in today's modern take on morals. Don Quixote is set in a modern day arena of white floor, florescent lighting and a multi-media back drop that illustrates the journey through Spain with pictures such as a Spanish bar to depict the inn that our knight believes to be a castle. Designer Gideon Davey brings us images of wind turbines instead of windmills that, to Don Quixote, are a field of long armed giants that he must battle. A host of brash and loud characters parade through Don Quixote and Sancho's escapades, each one rubbishing or mocking Quixote's beliefs in his code of chivalry.

This is certainly not a production for the faint-hearted, nor will it appeal to those who like only the well-made play, but it cleverly combines questions about that which we call madness, classical literature and a parody of some modern behaviour.

What stands alone in this production is Greg Hick's portrayal of Don Quixote. With his wiry framed body and haunting conviction he follows his beliefs to the end, with such a profound love of his lady Dulcinea del Toboso (whom he may have never seen) he moves between illusion, humour and sincerity without a step out of turn. This is a performance that will endear you, tower over you, inspire you and sadden you all in one night.

Following along beside him, and equally engaging, is his side kick Sancho Panza, played by Tony Bell. In good old materialist contrast to Don Quixote's almost religious fervor for his cause, Sancho's in it for what he can get out of it. Bell brings a naïve, long-suffering good nature to his relationship with Don Quixote and one cannot fail to grin in watching his comedic antics. Alan McMahon (an actor who was born to play Roal Dahl's BFG if ever there was one) playing the Priest has lovely comic timing and brings understated delight with every character.

Not all the actors can be mentioned here but this is a brave cast that, like Quixote, follow their convictions in a compelling performance. Director Josep Galindo has created a stimulating, if at times perplexing, intellectual tale with liberal associations that will leave you with food for thought for days or lost on the way to La Mancha.

Reviewer: Cecily Boys