DON QUIXOTE | London, Garrick Theatre

Translating a thousand-page novel into two hours of coherent, enjoyable theatre is a task equal to the ambition of Don Quixote himself, but the Royal Shakespeare Company has done a pretty sterling job of breathing new life into an old text.

Sancho Panza (Rufus Hound) gets the audience immediately onside at the start with his disarmingly frank question: “Are you up for it?”

We are then taken into the world of Cervantes’ Spain, through the recognisable theatrical language of farce, along with a rich and audience-friendly evocation of village life, complete with well-drawn stock characters (publican, priest and barber) and a vengeful wife (Natasha Magigi is superb). Watch out for flying baked goods if you are in the stalls.

At odds with this comfortable world are the deep, moving themes of the show, as Don Quixote (a mesmerising David Threlfall) cannot find the line between imagination and delusion; belief and madness. For a centuries-old text, the questions about mental health and even dementia are perhaps more relevant now than ever.

As Don Quixote’s journey/mad trip gets increasingly wild, each adventure is conjured with cunning stage craft (directed by Angus Jackson) and some first-class puppetry (Toby Olié), which provides some of the most awe-inspiring moments in the show. The musical interludes, and Sprechgesang moments, in which characters raspilly recap the action, are notably less effective.

At times, it feels like there is a darker, funnier, maturer play that is trying to break out of its safe, West End, Yuletide packaging. Nonetheless, this 2016 adaptation (James Fenton) is thoroughly recommended, for the stagecraft, the fabulist story, the brilliant double-act of Threlfall and Hound, and the superb acting from the whole cast.

The Man of La Mancha will stay in London until 2 February 2019.

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