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A CurtainUp London Review
Don Quixote

"Immortality awaits but it will not await forever."
— Don Quixote
Don Quixote
Sancho Panza (Rufus Hound) and Don Quixote (David Threlfall)
(Photo: Manuel Harlan)
First staged to commemorate the 400 years of Miguel de Cervantes, a writer contemporary of William Shakespeare, in Stratford in 2016, James Fenton's Don Quixote comes into the West End's Garrick Theatre. David Threlfall, who made his name playing in the 1980 Royal Shakespeare Company's eight and a half hour version of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickelbyas Smike, takes on the "knight errant". His companion Sancho Panza is played by actor and stand up comedian, Rufus Hound.

We first see the thin grey grizzled knight (David Threlfall) with his long grey hair and long grey beard and bright emerald green stockings. He talks about famous knights, like Sir Lancelot, his heroes, as he tries to bring chivalry back to Spain. Rufus Hound's warm up skills as Sancho Panza are seemingly spontaneous and delightfully amusing as he involves a front row member of the audience. The knight is kitted out in his armour, full armour, some of it a bit rusty. Wooden horses on wheels, think more hobby horse than War Horse, are brought in for the knight to mount. A man plays the front of the horse, flexing his lips and baring his teeth in the manner of the four legged animals. Threlfall looks superb, flashing his eyes and raising one eyebrow as he describes the giants and dragons he will slay and the damsels he will rescue. In his dreams!

James Fenton's script has plenty of songs, "The Pigman Song" one of the first. The music has guitars, horns and castanets for a Spanish feel. The Spanish aristocrats arrive, in white ruffs, black waistcoats and large hats attacking Quixote with parasols. Advised that he should have a squire, Quixote recruits Sancho Panza to supply him with food and wine and salves and bandages. Quixote actually does tilt at windmills, these huge white Spanish stone windmills as he mistakes them for the enemy. He is raised on a hoist to battle with them. He mistakes a field of sheep for an enemy army. Throughout Sancho Panza is making us laugh as if we are in a sophisticated adult pantomime without the filth.

Although we know Quixote is a fantasist, Threlfall plays him in such a sympathetic way that we want him to win and he has won our hearts. The second half of the play introduces an admirer of the Quixote stories Samson Carasco (Joshua McCord) and more meta-theatricality. Quixote has freed a procession of galley slaves but is attacked and then caged and forced to recover at home. He loses his helmet but replaces it with a shiny, metal barber's basin.

Quixote leaves home goes to find his Lady Dulcinea and is invited by the gliding Duchess (Ruth Everett) to visit her and the Duke (Richard Dempsey) but we have warmed to this knight and don't want to see him ridiculed, the butt of upper class humour. As the dead Don Quixote is raised onto his horse we caught the El Cid reference as he was sent off to lead the Spaniards into battle.

The large ensemble cast play many parts with aplomb. This version of Don Quixote from James Fenton in the skilled hands of Threlfall and Hound makes us admire the principles of honour and chivalry, albeit in unsuccessful projects, while laughing out loud.

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Don Quixote
Written by Miguel de Cervantes
Adapted by James Fenton
With songs by James Fenton and Grant Olding
Directed by Angus Jackson
Starring: David Threlfall, Rufus Hound, Joshua McCord, Ruth Everett, Richard Dempsey, Gabriel Fleary, Bathsheba Piepe
With: Will Bliss, Nicholas Lumley, Raphael Bushay, Farrell Cox, Richard Leeming, Natasha Magigi, Tom McCall, Rosa Robson, Timothy Speyer, Eleanor Wyld
Design: Robert Innes Hopkins
Composer: Grant Olding
Sound Design: Ferfus O'Hare
Lighting Design: Mark Henderson
Movement: Lucy Cullingford
Comedy Director: Cal McCrystal
Musical Director: Tarek Merchant
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0330 333 4811
Booking to 2nd February 2019
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 8th November 2018 performance at the Garrick Theatre, Charing Cross Road London WC2H 0HH (Rail/Tube: Charing Cross)
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