Written by Ben Lewis
Directed by Lu Kemp
Living a relatively quiet middle-class lifestyle amidst the trinkets and collectables which faintly glitter with promise and memory, Don, an intelligent, eccentric gentleman of a growing age from Clackmannanshire, is peppered with the natterings and intrusions of his family and care-workers. They fret over him with offers of biscuits and soups, teas, and Bargain Hunt – when all he wants is to be left alone. And despite concerns, is more than capable of fending for himself.
You know, despite the infantry pike skewered into the still smoking television.
The coming-of-age narrative is long overdue for a reshuffle. And with an accurately self-aggrandising tag of a ‘coming-of-old-age’ story experience, Don Quixote finds a picture-perfect description with Ben Lewis and Lu Kemp’s production. And as the cantankerous knight arises once more into the humdrum of suburbia to further blur the border of eloquent delusion in this reimagining of Miguel de Cervantes’s epic Spanish novel El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha.
But this is no diamond in the rough reimagining, this is mined and polished to an inscrutable degree for every ounce of humour and pathos extracted, Don Quixote: Man of Clackmannanshire is the conceptual jewel from Ben Lewis – imperfections and all. Without question, the finest knight of the realm, Benny Young rises to the role with a mental and physical gusto that the younger generations he berates would envy. The pacing of his riposte to relatives and adversaries, ranging from assisted suicide gags, the dangers of Wind Turbines, and a rather side-splitting remark at wooing women underline the sophisticated emotions Young plays the role.
Perhaps, there is just time for one final adventure in Don’s life. A trial of fury and infamy that Don may champion; to protect the 21st century from its own gluttonous apathy. A noble cause, for a noble man, with an even nobler (and motorised) steed. But he requires one final aspect – a squire. Reimagining Cervantes’s towering masterpiece of fanciful comedic adventure, Don takes it upon himself to educate his nephew in the ways of nobility and take a mighty stab at life – away from the humdrum of retail working and endless phone scrolling.
Sean Connor brings an element of droll mundanity against his uncle’s more idealistic tactics. However, the pair don’t precisely get very far or run into any genuine threat: to say their adventure was successful would be, well, only mildly delusional. But Connor’s participation as the sincerity, the bridge between an older and new generation, who have a unique understanding of being under-estimated, makes for a touching performance which counteracts the more physical and obvious humour Connor has within the script.
There’s no finer transitional sequence than that of a musical one, Kemp’s production rallying around the inclusion of live flamenco performance duo Paddy Anderson and Pablo Dominguez – an elegant addition to the production, and tie to the text’s foundations. The fantastical nature it presents, as onlookers every-so-often dipping their toes into Don’ narrative makes for a consistent reminder of the classical elements of the show, and the significant humour and movements.
So, one may be forgiven for falling into the prediction of where the second act turns towards. After all, the original text of Don Quixote is notoriously elongated. But where the feats and failures of our dynamic duo reigned through the initial half, Lewis’ second half finds us in familiar territory– to Don’s Garden shed, where he’s been hiding since the failed battle of the Wind Turbines. Lewis’ blistering comedy and pacing take a dip, not in quality, but in technique, as Don Quixote shifts from a classical comedy to a clarifying drama which still retains its enjoyable elements but has been sharpening its pike ready for this finale – one where all the cast shine their most and demonstrate
Dundee Rep’s lucky treasure Irene Macdougall takes the helm as a series of character-based performances, each with a distinct ripple of unhinged though autonomous roles. From a mild-mannered police officer to a quest-giving fair maiden propping up the bar and social worker Alison, Macdougall takes on each with relish, giving as good a punch as she receives from her character’s comedic appearances or peculiarities. Equally, Winter and Sawyerr have much more to work with from the emotional front, conveying the stresses of those within the care industry and family members who struggle with what is best for a relative and what is easiest for themselves. There’s a profound vision in gazing at our contemporary attitudes and frustrations growing older. Colliding with an ageing population, the complications of maintaining the dignity and care of our loved ones as they age with comes to fruition rather strikingly.
Through the fantastical-tinted spectacles, the emergence of something which stretches beyond a jovial comedy emerges – a piece on the tremendous prejudices and graces of ageing. Kemp and Lewis illustrate, through a barmy of a show, the stretched-thin offerings and means of a society that struggles in managing the expressions of older generations under enormous pressures and weights to find a delicate balance. But a balance Don Quixote sees a humorous endeavour in this joyful update of Cervantes classic.
Don Quixote: Man of Clackmannanshire runs at the Dundee Rep until October 15th.
Tickets for which may be obtained here.
Photo Credit – Tommy Ga-Ken Wan