Quick-witted and brim-full of invention, this Man of La Mancha spills out of the dark prison where Nicholas Pound’s Miguel de Cervantes is incarcerated during the Spanish Inquisition, to play out into the light of his Quixotic imagination. Francis O’Connor’s design, cunningly lit by Chris Ellis, of a gloomy prison ally with metal walkway above, is the perfect platform for this multi-talented cast.
Director Martin Duncan and musical director Robert Pettigrew’s key idea is to bring the band out of the pit, merging musicians and actors. It places an extra emphasis on one Dale Wasserman’s main ideas, the nature of our perception of reality. And, in such scenes as the attack of Aldonza by the Muleteers, it is the music itself which is given added emphasis and weight, as it emanates from the hands of her attackers.
Pauline Knowles is a perfect Aldonza. Despite lacking the range demanded of her voice, her acting performance ensures that the comic irony of Don Quixote’s adulation of her as his Dulcinea is fully explored - before the grim reality of applying his lofty ideals to her situation takes hold.
The individual performances are all strong. Pound is in particularly enthralling mode - opening up his throat for The Impossible Dream and conducting the prisoners through their staging of the Don Quixote story - with Steve Elias equally engaging as his comic foil, Sancho. But it is the strength of the ensemble that really stands out, ensuring that this is as full an integration of music with theatre as you could want. Stunning stuff.