24th May, 2014
‘Tal es su imaginación, tan insano es su existencia, que sus propios libros son invisibles como un sueño.’
[‘Such is his imagination, so insane is his existence, that his own books are like an invisible dream.’]
Our second visit within a week to The Riverside Studios did not fail to disappoint. This time we were treated to the Ron Lalá Company’s version of ‘Don Quixote (the non-Spanish spelling) of La Mancha’.
The word ‘quixotic’ is nearly always meant as an insult. The way most people refer to Don Quixote makes you wonder if they have actually read the book. It would be interesting to find out whether Don Quixote is still as widely read as the universal popularity of the character would normally suggest. In my early twenties, I resolved to read the massive tome which exceeds 1200 pages: I failed. Enlightened, I will revisit it now.
Very simply the tale of Don Quixote is polarised – either it is seen as a comic hero’s predicament or as a tragic hero driven by an impossible dream.
Either way, the journey into the auditorium sets the tone of a vanishing line between reality and imagination. On entry, we wind past stacks of chivalrous books owned by the protagonist, Alonso Quijano, a landowner from La Mancha. More tomes form barriers around the stage, since they are ultimately the cause of his distortion on reality and his eventual downfall. This is because our hero is driven mad by the inconsistencies of plot, character and philosophy that fill each volume of these seventeenth-century precursors to the fantasy novel. Quijano resolves to restore dignity to the lost profession of knight-errantry, (un caballo andante – a frequent musical refrain) assembles a rudimentary sword, suit of armour, Membrino’s helmet and horse (the suffering Rocinante), and sets out into Spain in his quest for glory.
The author, Cervantes’ struggle to unlock the narrative is seen as a detritus of rejected paper. He creates idealistic people, symbols for Quixote’s aspirations, such as Dulcinea del Toboso; his idea of a perfect woman and his inspiration to be good. As Quixote makes clear, his idea of chivalry is deeply sentimental and nostalgic. His role, he believes, is to bring back a time of goodness and decency. Cervantes is ever present on the scene with a double function: one as the author, who adds footnotes, accelerates the action or stops it completely; there is a moment when he also suffers an identity crisis with his creation so that it is evident that past war traumas are conflated in the narrative.
There is so much to enjoy here – with unmistakable subtle and ironic humour, the author mocks his hero, the ‘hildago called Alfonso Quijano, Quijana or Quisada.’ Where Sancho sees windmills, Don Quixote sees giants. Where Sancho sees sheep, Don Quixote sees armies. Where Sancho sees inns, Don Quixote sees castles. The script is a dense ninety minutes adaptation, forcing us to consider that Cervantes may have been making us question what reality is. Is it the reality we see and think we know, or is it something else?
Satirical contemporary references to Katie Price and texts such as Tony Blair’s Memoirs subtly update social and political themes. The audience is invited to unlock mobiles and become verbally complicit in Quixote’s fantasy as we help conjure up the fair Dulcinea. Dynamic, original foot-tapping music add to the disillusioned, mirror of Cervantes’ lost Golden Age of Spain.
The cast is a collective musical and acting talent. Iñigo Echevarría is visually suited as the gaunt, tall hero whose expressive, posturing face exposes his lunacy. In contrast, Daniel Rovalher is the wonderful diminutive figure of Sancho Panza, his sidekick and faithful squire. He expansively portrays Sancho’s struggle between his love for his master, upon whom he depends so completely, and his own sense of reality. At first he is respectful and submissive to Quixote, who is nobler and more learned. Sancho holds a misplaced dream that he will govern an island. But gradually the humour intensifies as he learns to argue with Quixote. Although Sancho is illiterate, he can recite an apparently infinite list of proverbs. The irony here is that Sancho’s memory is entirely the product of the author. He cannot remember anything that has occurred unless it has occurred – and if it has occurred, it is recorded in this tale. The sight of both master and servant in their different riding modes on imaginary horses is endearingly funny.
Other notable parts are Cañas Juan in principal role as Cervantes who regularly invades his own narrative; additional support comes from Miguel Magdalena and Alvaro Tato.
Miguel Angel Camacho’s lighting is very inventive. Shards of light create magical distortions, add intensity to the fight routines and sharp spotlights accentuate Quixote as a man possessed. For those whose Spanish is limited or non-existent, English subtitles guide you through the celebration of a quixotic imagination.