Needing change, I recently spent an evening at a fantastic performance of Man of La Mancha at the London Coliseum where the only visible lions were critics and although Christians doubtless abounded, they were audience rather than rippage entertainment. The play is adapted from Miguel de Cervantes’ El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha. Luckily this title adapts better to translation than some, the musical Grease translating back into Spanish as Vasolina; doubtless a slick production.
Mancha translates as spot, patch, a sly allusion as Don Quixote exists at the pinnacle of chivalry and therefore his origin from somewhere slightly grubby is ironic, making him even more of a surprising, unpredictable character. It’s as well that Cervantes had not visited the UK otherwise his story, set somewhere close to London, might have been entitled Man of Staines.
It was supreme drama: from high above the stage, lights blazed, a ladder descended, dehumanised beings sent Cervantes down to the open, filthy prison below. The feeling that the people above were superior, controlling gave veracity to the terror of those in the squalid conditions on the floor who were awaiting trial by the Inquisition.
In his attempt to save his precious manuscript, Cervantes offers the hostile prisoners entertainment: to enact the play of Don Quixote, inviting inmates to take on various roles. There is a tangible move from the prisoners’ aggression to cooperation then frank enjoyment in the process. From this premise roles out a superb performance, a rollicking adventure; rousing, exciting, emotionally charged. There were fights in bars, fair maidens to save, a Mirrored Knight and even a windmill to be tilted at. The interval provided wine; women and song abounded within the performance.
Through it all was woven Don Quixote’s rather appealing madness. His sanity, regained towards the end, was full of pathos; somehow his madness suited him better.
There were wonderful story arcs tying the whole together to make it cohesive but not trite. Kelsey Grammer proved that he’s not just a famous face but is also an excellent set of vocal cords. His rendition of To Dream the Impossible Dream was a stirring end to part one. The production was amazing, memorable with fabulous effects. Would I go again? Absolutely.