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Don Quixote review at Swan Theatre, Stratford – ‘strives for ebullience’

Rufus Hound and David Threlfall in Don Quixote at Swan Theatre, Stratford. Photo: Tristram Kenton Rufus Hound and David Threlfall in Don Quixote at Swan Theatre, Stratford. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Miguel de Cervantes, like Shakespeare, died 400 years ago this April. Poet James Fenton’s new adaptation represents an opportunity for homage and re-engagement. It begins with a rumba by composer Grant Olding about King Arthur, the first of 16 songs and poems across 32 episodes.

But the show is neither a musical (unlike Dale Wasserman’s 1964 Man of La Mancha), nor a pantomime – though the audience was encouraged to wave its hands in the air, and to say “Ooooooh” when we heard Antwerp mentioned. Neither is it a farce. Carefully, it is described as “a play with songs adapted from the novel” and relies on the company to tell its fantastical stories.

Central to the enterprise should be the charisma of Don Quixote. David Threlfall is gangly and doggedly adventurous, achieving an effortless, improvisatory quality, with a lightness of touch. Rufus Hound delivers a warm portrayal of the wily yet infectiously loyal servant-squire Sancho Panza.

Robert Innes Hopkins’ open design evokes the Spanish plains; Johanna Town’s lighting, the baking heat. Co-director Toby Olie’s puppets add variety. They include infants, a kestrel, sheep, cats, and a lovely lion. And it’s a world of charming cameos – Richard Leeming’s gormless Boy, Nicholas Lumley’s worldly Priest, Will Bliss’ careful Travelling Barber, Joshua McCord’s finely singing Samson Carrasco.

Cervantes’ jaunty, influentially comic novel will endure, and this entertaining, anniversary production might well win him new readers.

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Fast-paced, light-hearted adaptation strives for ebullience with occasional crowd-pleasing moments