One of the pleasures of reviewing in the Midlands is seeing most of the RSC productions in Stratford. I’ve seen many. And one that quite simply took my breath away was the haunting production, in March 2016, of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, in James Fenton’s adaptation.
The production is very funny, but what makes it so special – so extremely special – are David Threlfall’s performance of the Don, and Threlfall’s partnership with Rufus Hound, who plays the Don’s steward, Sancho Panza.
The Don has spent a lifetime reading the old romances, stories of great deeds, of dragons, of brigands, of chivalrous knights. He comes to believe he is such a knight and travels around believing he carries out great deeds. He is accompanied and assisted by his long-suffering squire.
James Fenton, in his adaptation, and Angus Jackson, who directs, understand the tale’s context perfectly.
They see, in the story, in the Don, our own tendency to believe the past was better – a time when people cared more. Reflections on the past, the remorseless need for change, the need to lose some things we love are powerful themes in drama. These are always to the fore in this Don Quixote production.
But a play is a two-dimensional thing without the flesh and blood actors. Never has this been more true than in David Threlfall’s creation of the Don. Threlfall has the comedic skill to have us smiling as the story unfolds, and the great actor’s skill of leading us into his imagined world. We empathise with him every step of the way, and we never, ever laugh at him. He is too dear to us for us to be that cruel.
Watching Threlfall and Hound together is like witnessing a master-class in comedic acting Hound is as generous to Threlfall as Sancho is to the Don. And the two act with heart-breaking honesty; in their very different ways both characters are totally vulnerable. In the magical environment of the theatre, we can worry about them on one hand and laugh at their situations on the other. The whole reaching a poetic and moving and satisfying conclusion.
This is a very special treat; if you can get to the Garrick this autumn and winter, don’t throw away this opportunity to enjoy it.
My review on ReviewsGate, March 22016:
27 October 2018 – 2 February 2019