By Jen Bolsover
From the moment this show’s three actors bursts onto the stage, it is clear that this is going to be a charming, high energy hour. They treat their audience to a selection of episodes from Cervantes’ famous novel, delivered at a frantic pace and with considerable charisma, to the strains of a skilfully played flamenco guitar.
It is a delight to see performers so thoroughly in sync with each other. Their physical comedy is perfectly timed and precisely executed, and their frequent improvisations and interactions with the audience are a perfect blend of chaos and control.
The abilities of all four performers are used to maximum advantage. Stephen Harper’s talents for puppetry and object manipulation bring several scenes to life, while guitarist Maria Camahort creates a highly effective soundscape using a number of different instruments. She is also an expert in keeping a straight face, which is no mean feat in such an infectiously funny show. Patricia Rodriguez holds the audience in the palm of her hand as a warm, clownish Sancho Panza, and she is ably matched by Merce Ribot who starts out by flitting from one comic role to another and ends up taking the audience by surprise with her dignity and gravitas.
As an adaptation, it is true to the spirit rather than the letter of Cervantes’ novel. It blends some of the best known scenes (the windmills make an appearance) with some of the more obscure ones, all strung together with narration and a bit of bickering from the cast.
The direction is slick and clever. There’s nothing on the stage that isn’t used to brilliant effect, particularly the trapdoors which facilitate much of the comedy as well as the surprisingly poignant ending. The meta-theatrical devices – the loose play within a play structure and the joyful disregard for the fourth wall – are all clear, consistent and intelligently applied.
Familiarity with the story of Don Quixote is helpful but not necessary, and despite a couple of strong words and sexual references that would earn them a PG-13 rating if this were a film, this is a show that all ages can thorougly enjoy.
The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha runs at ZOO (Monkey House) until 25 August (not 20th) at 18:15. Running time is 1 hour.