It must be hard to take a seminal work of literature, reinvent it as a play for the modern era, set the piece in Oxford’s iconic Covered Market, and make the performance a success, but I guess that’s why the company are called Creation Theatre. And of course, they have a long history of reinterpreting and reimagining classic works in unusual venues - take, for example, this year’s hugely creative promenading production of The Tempest.
Here, Jonathan Holloway has adapted and directed a fresh take on the perennial themes of Don Quixote – age, memory loss, fantasy, political correctness, sexuality, friendship and alienation, to name but a few references in tonight’s show by Dom Quixote and his best mate Samcho. They play two ageing Cowley Road reprobates who, at the opening of the play, are planning their epic voyage of discovery – a caravan trip along the A40 all the way to its end… in Fishguard. And all the time, the play hovers between the harsh realities of their modern lives, their hopes, dreams, their history, golden eras past and the world which exists in memory and imagination. As Dom quotes Shakespeare (badly): “nothing is, but seeming makes it so”.
At times during the play there are clearly shades of Pinter in the relationship between Dom and Sam, with echoes of Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot. Also similar to Pinter, the writing takes little time in explanatory soliloquys or sligh insightful asides to the audience, but allows them to build their own version of the characters’ back-stories, based on the conversations and actions which make up their performance. Paralleling Waiting for Godot, the play also explores the effects of time, ageing and waiting for the end, and this is underpinned by the central musical theme of the play, Louis Armstrong’s 'We Have All The Time in the World'. This leads, as the theme tune to On Her Majesty’s Service, to the central comedic thread of the play - Dom’s obsession with Ian Fleming and 'Bond, James Bond', and his wish for him and Sam to dress in black tie for dinner in the pubs they are planning to visit on their road trip. As ever though, throughout the play Dom’s eccentricity spills over into the ludicrous, farcical and at times god-damned dangerous leading, at the end of the first half, to him riding a power-bike recklessly round the Covered Market.
(And I would like to take this opportunity to sing the praises of the Covered Market as a fine institution supporting independent, local traders and an integral and renowned part of Oxford life – I was recently at a wedding in Leatherhead sat next to a Canadian woman who had visited Oxford just the previous day and had specifically been drawn to the market to explore the eccentricities and remarkable flavours of the Oxford Cheese Company. Nowadays, the Covered Market is battered and bruised by the passage of time and by the beguiling banalities of the Westgate, but Creation Theatre have imaginatively added a new twist to the already complex history of the place with a play full of thought-provoking vim, vigour and vitality.)
The second half opens with Dom slowly rolling down the market’s halls in black tie and riding a pimped-up (but not quite Aston Martin) mobility scooter – now almost fully immersed in the escapism of his James Bond fantasies. After a quick bounce round in the back of their caravan, Sam morphs hilariously into the arch-Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld. However, there can be no great joy without great sadness and Dom cannot but rage, rage against the dying of the light, as Dylan Thomas would have it. Wisely, though, the company decided to move the ending of the play from gut-wrenching to rib-tickling, as Dom and Sam faithfully re-enact the classic moves from the opening of a Bond movie, ably assisted by a gamut of multi-flavoured Fray Bentos tinned pies. All of us in the audience left with a wry smile, thanks to a play which was thought-provoking, tear-jerking and rib-tickling.