Shakespeare’s anniversary this year, while it has been justly celebrated, has also somewhat overshadowed the anniversary of another significant figure in literature, Miguel de Cervantes. The Spanish author has been credited with inventing the modern novel with the publication of Don Quixote, the tale of the Spanish nobleman whose constant perusal of chivalric romances leads him to the delusion that he is himself a knight-errant. This RSC adaptation, written by James Fenton and directed by Angus Jackson is, I am glad to report, true to the spirit of the original and a wonderful piece of theatre in its own right.
The tale begins as Quixote determines on his knightly path and heads off to seek adventure, his loyal squire Sancho Panza by his side. Numerous incidents ensue, usually involving the Don mistaking something for something else (windmills for giants, a flock of sheep for an army) and Sancho having to extricate him from the difficulty. The second half follows the pattern of the original novel, in which Book 2 sees our knight meeting various individuals who have already read Book 1. In the play, Quixote meets people in the second half who know all about the events of the first.
Funny and irreverent, the adaptation is a joy to watch unfold. Even the scene changes are turned into spectacle, with the actors who install the windmills making a great show of their work to the crowd, and finishing it off with a flourish. Don Quixote’s loyal steed Rosinante and Sancho Panza’s old nag are represented by horses on wheels, with actors playing either the front (with ears) or the back (with a tail). Rufus Hound as Sancho Panza talks directly to the audience on several occasions, asking us what we’re doing indoors on such a sunny day, and sharing his observations and concerns with us.
David Threlfall is Don Quixote, lending pathos and sympathy to a character who is one of the best loved in literature. Other superb supporting actors include Eleanor Wyld and Ruth Everett.
I’m so glad I made the trip up to Stratford to check out this play. It’s very funny, and fantastic addition to the Don Quixote story.