Chipping Norton Theatre was the perfect setting for a night of wonders.
Don Q is a tightrope act with a poignard thrust. It treads a fine line between rumbustious comedy, executed with great versatility and verve by Flintlock Theatre’s four talented actors – and bleak, tragic reflection.
Cervantes’ great novel of heroic self delusion is re-interpreted through the ageing figure of Norman Vaughan (Samuel Davies) of the Citizens Advice Bureau. Vaughan’s excitable appetite for chivalric fiction proves too much for his duplicitous nephew (Jeremy Barlow). With the aid of an all too willing doctor, the nephew consigns Vaughan to an old people’s home.
Only his faithful carer Sam (Kate Colebrook) visits him. When Vaughan learns of Sam’s heartache at the loss of his wife Beryl to Graham at B&Q - they have sailed off together on the marital narrow boat - Vaughan imagines a chivalric quest. He will redeem his life through selfless acts of bravery, as Don Q, and Sam will regain his lady. At the heart of the story are profound human impulses for dignity and love.
Don Q’s defiance of ageing almost at the jaws of death is a tour de force of imaginative transcendence. Together, they encounter adventures broadly similar to those of Cervantes’ hero but updated and in many cases – uproarious.
Flintlock Theatre’s co-founders artistic director Robin Colyer, and executive director and writer Anna Glynn repeatedly challenge – and actively involve the audience. There is much outlandish hat wearing, prompt card reading, dancing in the aisles and at one point, active extra participation on stage, which the rest of the audience loved. The picaresque farce is whipped up into peaks of wonderfully imaginative sequences, and incongruous prop use. Despite the challenge of evoking many landscapes and parallel times, the pace never falters.
Samuel Davis is outstanding as Don Q – grandiloquent, absurd, pathetic and defiant; Kate Colbrook’s Sam is touching and spirited. Francesca Binefa is dazzling as a kaleidoscope of characters, including a wonderful Spanish care worker, and Jeremy Barlow takes us inside the essential goodness of a hoodie who – despite appearances and street bant - Cameron could safely hug.
Talking to her writing mentor Toby Hulse about his reasons for staging Don Quixote at Bristol Old Vic, Hulse replied:
‘I had to watch my Dad die and found seeing him fade away heartbreaking.’
Glynn notes that she explored Scandanavian concepts of caring for older people with dementia ‘without disabusing them of their reality’.
We can only hope that when the time comes, we all have a little of Don Q in us.