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The Adventures of Sancho Panza

Glenys Evans
Hijinx Theatre Company
Riverfront Theatre, Newport

Gaynor Lougher and Gareth Clark in The Adventures of Sancho Panza Credit: Simon Gough Photography
Gaynor Lougher, Maxwell James and Andrew Tadd in The Adventures of Sancho Panza' Credit: Simon Gough Photography
Gareth Clark, Andrew Tadd, Maxwell James, Gaynor Lougher and Gareth Wyn Griffiths in The Adventures of Sancho Panza' Credit: Simon Gough Photography

Cardiff-based Hijinx Theatre’s latest touring production for an inclusive audience is a masterful exploration of how the pain of losing a parent impacts on a learning disabled young man and his widowed mother.

The Adentures of Sancho Panza is hard-hitting, insightful and moving; it also a joyful production, filled with adventure and fun and packed with moments of real comic genius which reduce the audience to belly-laughs.

It takes a weighty vision and rock-solid talent to pull off such a feat: Glenys Evans’s text, James Williams’s direction and the unfailing might of Hijinx’s inclusive cast of actors manage it with ease.

Evans tackles the complex issues of grief with all the finesse of her earlier works, such as Full Circle and Into My Own. Gareth Clark plays Sancho Panza, a young man with a learning disability who finds his own path through the anguish caused by the death of his father, while his mother (Gaynor Lougher) is lost, temporarily, to her own grief.

Sancho retreats to the gift of his imagination, bequeathed to him by his father’s love of literature. As he loses himself in his favourite book, Don Quixote, (Gareth Wyn Griffiths), his inner world springs to life for us on stage. He becomes Sancho Panza, Quixote’s long-suffering squire. Together they set out on a fun-packed adventure in which they encounter robbers, giants, and dukes, grumpy old ladies (Gaynor Louhger) and even a sassy barber, played to comic perfection by Andrew Tadd.

We come to see in the closing scenes just how lost Sancho has been in his own thoughts, as his mother discovers him sitting alone in the cold with his book. Clark excels in this scene in which he bids a sorrowful farewell to Don Quixote, and so too to his father. It is disarming for the vulnerability Clark allows himself to share with us.

The production is lifted to another level by James Williams’s musical score, performed by a talented cast of actor-musicians. The refrain, “There’s a million other places I’d rather be than here…There’s a million other people in the world that I would rather be than me”, for example, sung beautifully by Maxwell James, cuts right to the heart of Sancho’s grief in the opening moments of the play. Just as, “I am your North Star” captures perfectly the legacy of a father, lost and loved.

Mary Drummond’s set lends an ingenious and elegant simplicity, the perfect home for this beautifully crafted, creatively staged and characteristically clutter-free storytelling.

The autumn tour came to a close on November 10, but the show will tour again in the spring, 2013. Venues to be confirmed—see the Hijinx website for details.

Reviewer: Allison Vale