DON Q – Old Fire Station, Oxford: pre-tour




Cervantes’ story gave us a word: quixotic. From politics to artistic enterprises, it defines all extravagantly romantic, chivalrous, visionary but impractical enterprises. A middle-aged man goes off, inspired by too many knightly romances, riding a skinny horse with his despairing squire Sancho Panza alongside. He seeks adventures to place him in the annals of great deeds, and always fails or is gulled. Next month Carlos Acosta will be dancing the tale at the Royal Opera House. Meanwhile here is the quirky foursome of Flintlock Theatre – artists in residence at the Oxford Playhouse – doing their own take on it.

Or, at least, on its spirit. Anna Glynn’s version, designed by Robin Colyer, is set in a library at closing time where four geeky, fawn-cardiganed figures – Jeremy Barlow, Francesca Binefa, Kate Colebrook and Samuel Davies – bustle ineffectually around, excited by being amid books and stories (the set is a nice stepladder and door) and perform various slightly too long balletic mimes (the first thing to say is that the show would be sharper and more fun at a straight 75 minutes, rather than running with an interval).

The meat of it, and the real interest, comes when they go into character and act out the story of an old man called Norman (Davies, playing it pretty manic throughout). He is confused, causes a scene in the library and is put in a kindly but dull secure home. Assisted by his friend Sam (Kate Colebrook, in an earflap hat and nicely down-to-earth manner) he escapes. Sam has to be his Sancho Panza, as Norman cobbles up a wonderful suit of armour from a tea-tray breastplate, colander helmet and oven-gloves as pauldrons. His steed Rosinante is Sam’s scooter.

Once the quest gets well under way it becomes both funny (quite a bit of interaction with the front rows, watch yourself) and oddly touching, as they conflate a modern pensioner’s dwindling sense of reality with Don Quixote’s desire for exotic and heroic adventure out of old books. The best moment is when he convinces himself he has met two hooded holy friars and must confess: they are teenage hoodies (Barlow and Binefa are splendid vocal shape-shifters), and the glow of their smartphone when they attempt a selfie with the old loon has him greeting the bright light as “a blessing!”. The ultimate encounter is with a burger-shop benefactor and with a damsel in distress: an immigrant care assistant at a bus stop (Binefa again) finally realizing that if they are to help the old boy and take him home, they must join in his fantasy. It feels, at that point, oddly serious. Touring through 2015
rating three   3 Meece Rating


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