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Don Quijote, Battersea Arts Centre

Miguel de Cervantes

Tom Frankland and Keir Cooper in association with Último Comboio
★★
Pros: An original, daring and creative approach to exploring this classic novel.
Cons: It’s a bit chaotic in its execution, and the story of Don Quijote is never clearly outlined.
Our Verdict: Despite some nice moments, there is just too much happening in this hour-long show.
Courtesy of EdFringe.com
Don’t be misled by the title. This is far from a stage version of the famous Spanish novel about a man who dreamed the impossible dream. It’s more comparable to attending a book club; except at this book club electric saws and paper shredders are used to dissect a text.
I was invited to take a cushion, and find a spot on the floor. From the centre of the room, a quick 360 scan revealed clues about the staging of this show; there were sets and props in every direction.
The performance began with a puppetry sequence projected onto various surfaces, including the roof. The visuals were scattered – the puppeteers were using hand torches instead of a static spotlight – and it was hard to make sense of what was going on, especially if you were not familiar with the book. There were short chapter extracts, which were designed to offer some context to the silhouettes of sword-wielding knights and spinning windmills. However, they didn’t really help much.
When the lights were turned on to reveal Don Quijote (guest performer Rajni Shah) reclining in an armchair and reading a book, I thought the tale would then be told. But this show was not so straightforward. Inviting a member of the audience to accompany him on an adventure, Don Quijote then left the space, and the show, only to return at the finale. Following this exit, we became subject to a series of sermons, delivered by performance makers Tom Frankland, Kier Cooper and Carlos Otero.
With the use of costume, props, video footage and lighting, the men interacted with the audience, relaying personal and historical anecdotes. For example, Otero – adorning a thick Spanish accent – recounted the experience of when he bid farewell to a school at which he had been teaching. Instead of marking his departure in a more traditional sense, he climbed to the top floor of the building, and made it rain flower petals onto the courtyard below. With the use of a fan, he tried to recreate this romantic moment. It was not particularly successful, but it was a nice idea.
The various stories highlighted the positive influence of Don Quijote, a character who follows his dreams without forethought or fear. The most effective delivery, and the highlight of the show, was the honor roll of modern day Don Quijotes. With profile photos appearing on a TV box, Frankland introduced us to real people who have stood up for what they believe in despite what society may think or say. These stories were fascinating, and I would have liked to learn about others.
Unfortunately, the performance as a whole felt disorganised¸ and it needed refinement. Some audiences may appreciate a work being created in front of them, and watching the performers channeling this instinctual creative energy. However, I could see how things were supposed to work, and how the performers were trying to make them work, but they weren’t working at the time and this detracted from the entertainment.
There was also too much message pushing; the underlying themes throughout the anecdotes, the lyrics to the music (taken from Man of La Mancha, the musical version of Don Quijote), inspirational thoughts projected onto the wall, and the placards with written mottoes littering the stage. It was just too much.
Though I give credit to the performance makers for trying different things, ultimately this show tried to showcase too many ideas. Even in experimental theatre, less can be more.
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Don Quijote has now finished its run at the Battersea Arts Centre, but it will run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival from 16-24 August 2013. For more information visit https://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/theatre/don-quijote.

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