The Theatreguide.London Review
Coliseum Spring 2019
With the main theatres
today increasingly desperate for new musicals while opting instead to
dress up anaemic classics/movie tie-ins with youthful glitter/hi-viz
screen stars, Man of La Mancha at the ENO is one show that wears its
heart on its sleeve, warts and all, and is all the more appealing for
With the slightest of
nods to historical fact, this is the 1965
New York hit musical where writer Dale Wasserman drops Don Quixote
into a story within a story.
endearingly portrays the
iconic knight’s creator, 15th-century writer Miguel de Cervantes
(Shakespeare’s contemporary), who finds himself in a dank jail
awaiting interrogation by the Spanish Inquisition.
Faced with the
sight of the only copy of his manuscript dangled over a fiery
brazier, he submits to a mock trial at the hands of his fellow
inmates, led by Nicholas Lyndhurst, all gimlet-eyed as the sardonic
Thinking on his feet,
Cervantes says he’ll account for
himself by recreating the world of Alonso Quijana, his novel's
protagonist who descends into madness and reinvents himself as the
ever-questing Don Quixote.
Costumes are plucked out
of nowhere as the
whole jail finds itself multi-roling this classic study of mental
illness. Along the way we encounter Don Quixote's trusty squire
Sancho Panza – a finely tuned Peter Polycarpou – and, of course,
the object of his affections Dulcinea, who's really the serving girl
and prostitute Aldonza.
It’s a solid cast who
work confidently with the
different narrative and music levels, taking their cue from a
confident Grammer who proves quite the trouper in this almost
They conspire to tell a
great story and that’s
why this is worth the ticket. Because as musicals go, this was never
an amazing example – its songs lack spectrum, reflecting the more
'direct' style that evolved in the 1960s.
But Grammer and
acquit themselves well vocally while playing to their acting
strengths as they slip in and out of their various characters. As the
long-suffering Sancho Panza, Polycarpou takes a woefully underwritten
part and deftly makes it his own.
As Aldonza Danielle de
Niese brings an attractive
balance of fire and intelligence to the musical's one convincingly
complex character but rarely gets the chance to shine songwise until
clump of numbers towards the end of Act II – peaking with the
The opera provenance is
evident and a bit of a
curate’s egg. The dark hoodies and medieval russet blue and red
linens form a monolithic counterpoint to the black/grey single set,
while movement comes in solid blocks that go up/down or left/right
(though there’s Carmen-like flash in the Gypsy Dance).
Leigh’s score here arrives as more Britten than Iberian — all
French horns and not enough trumpets — and similarly his and
lyricist Joe Darion’s songs have little space to sparkle. The
Impossible Dream almost slips you by, to be honest.
Price finds unexpected ways to find sparks in the mix, such as using
spots to stir static song renditions or unexpected bouts of
acrobatics and props improbably caught.
Hang around for the
half where the budget is hurled at a string of big set pieces –
some turn very dark indeed, even unsettling, such as the Knight of
the Mirrors sending shafts of light into the audience from fragments
that reflect Don Quixote’s shattered psyche.
The producer's decision to go with the strength of story and setting, rather than glitz it up superficially, carries the show fittingly as a romp of a drama with something for everyone.
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