This lively and inventive adaptation of the legendary seventeenth century novel from Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote de la Mancha, opened with a demure young lady sat on the corner of a dimly lit podium, strumming a Spanish serenade on an acoustic guitar as the towering, yet unassuming actor, Stephen Harper, took to the stage. So far, so calm, but within another five minutes, the two remaining cast members – Mercè Ribot and Patricia Rodriguez – had literally burst onto the stage and broken the fourth wall for a quick Q&A session with the audience. This was a signal of intent for the remainder of the show, where narrative structure and tonal consistency was abandoned in the pursuit of entertainment, chaos, hilarity, and playful intervals of audience participation.
Wisely opting to capture the essence of Cervantes' novel through a handful of key stories instead of attempting to stage all of Don Quixote's tales and depict all six hundred and eighty nine characters, this production is as reverent of the source material as it is determined to mock itself, and requires no prior knowledge of the titular character's postmodern heroics. The set design, costume and use of props are simple yet ingenious and perfectly suited to such a varied and fragmented narrative, with a large wooden podium and two trapdoors providing all of the entrances, exits, costume changes and props necessary to convey Don Quixote's various exploits. The cast and crew demonstrated incredible technical versatility in their use of mime, puppetry, dance, but Mercè Ribot, Patricia Rodriguez and director Ian Nicholson deserve special credit for conceiving such imaginative visual effects using simple, practical techniques.
Overall, this was an exciting, hilarious and entertaining night at the theatre. All of the cast members were excellent, with each utilising their own individual skills and physical traits to bring the story to life. While the portrayal of Quixote was shared equally between Stephen Harper (gangly and gormless) and Mercè Ribot (proud and pedantic), Patricia Rodriguez imbued her depiction of Quixote's less than faithful servant, Sancho, with explosive physicality and bare-faced cheek. All the while, guitarist Maria Camahort, worked in perfect synergy with the actors and regularly coaxed laughs from the audience with her looks of bemusement. Through this skilled ensemble the play somehow finished on a melancholy note, but with an unshakeable memory of the unabashed joy that had gone before.