Review - Don Quixote at the Garrick Theatre
The RSC is back, at least part-time, at the Barbican Centre, reversing its former boss Adrian Noble's ridiculous decision to remove the company from their purpose-built London home there back in 2001, but they now have a muddled identity in the capital. The dull old Shakespeare's seem to go to the City of London (they are currently in the midst of a three play season there), where they struggle to compete with the far livelier classical offerings at other London theatres from the National to the Globe, Almeida and currently the Donmar, while their more 'commercial' projects go to the West End.
Earlier this year they brought their impressive two-parter adaptation of Robert Harris's historical epic Imperium to the Gielgud; now Don Quixote, first staged at Stratford-upon-Avon in 2016, belatedly arrives at the Garrick Theatre.
It's a jolly, if sometimes overextended at close to three hours, end-of-term comedy romp based on the Spanish classic by Miguel de Cervantes that's been newly adapted by poet, writer (and one-time theatre critic of the Sunday Times) James Fenton, who also provided the original lyrics to Les Misérables before being replaced by Herbert Kretzmer. He's provided a lively, meta-theatrical version of the story of the famous fantasist of the title, a pretend knight errant who embarks on a series of fantastical adventures, mostly inspired by his vivid imagination which legendarily included attacking windmills that he imagined were giants.
There's a lot of breaking of the fourth wall in Angus Jackson's production, not least because of the apparently spontaneous, conspiratorial brilliance of Rufus Hound as Don Quixote's fantasy enabler and servant Sancho Panza, who possibly wants to believe his master's lunacies as much as his master does. In an absolutely riotous moment on the press night, the theatre's fire alarms went off - and Hound covered it with his own baffled astonishment about whether it was real or not.
It's that sort of show - it constantly blurs the boundaries between truth and fantasy so that even when something real like a fire alarm goes off, we are entirely wrong-footed.
The other joy of the production is seeing David Threlfall back on the RSC stage, in the title role. His Lear-like gravity is the perfect foil to the jovial Hound to invest it with a proper seriousness and even sadness. There are times when I thought of The Madness of King George III, too.
But there are also times when I thought of the 60s Broadway musical Man of La Mancha that told the same story, only with more memorable songs. This show is also stuffed with songs (by composer Grant Olding to lyrics by Fenton), with a live band on an upper level of Robert Innes Hopkins's set.
Don Quixote tickets are available now.