First staged in 2016, the 400th anniversary of Cervantes’ death, James Fenton’s adaptation of Don Quixote compresses the sprawling novel into just under three hours.
David Threlfall reprises his role as the deluded, ageing Don Quixote, determined to see a return to an age of chivalry in Spain; Rufus Hound also returns as his amiable squire-sidekick Sancho Panza.
Angus Jackson’s faintly Monty Pythonesque production, first performed on the Swan’s thrust stage, has been successfully repurposed for a proscenium.
The first half borders on pantomime. There’s audience interaction and pratfalls aplenty, (arguably too many) songs, plus a full-on food fight. Though some of the jokes are on the broad side – the sight of Panza being chased around the stage by his nagging wife is tiresome the first time they do it and they do it twice – the comic timing of the ensemble cast is impeccable – thanks to comedy director Cal McCrystal. There’s some inventive puppetry too, including a hungry falcon and a flock of ill-fated sheep.
Fenton skilfully incorporates the key episodes, the tilting at windmills and the scene in which the aforementioned sheep are mistaken for soldiers, into his adaptation. Though some of the narrative momentum is lost later on, the production becomes more affecting, by the end achieving a genuine poignancy.
Though some of the earlier silly business smacks of enforced fun, the production gradually grows into something stronger and subtler, anchored by the two central performances. Threlfall combines frailty with a robustness of spirit and Hound is a perfect foil, affectionate and warm – with a winning rapport with the audience.