Don Quixote is one of those stories that we all feel we know; but when it comes down to it, what we know is an anecdote of a dreamer tilting at windmills, and a vague understanding of the word "quixotic" (together with a little discomfort at how to pronounce it). I doubt if one in a hundred of us have ever read, or even attempted to read, the novel. So the chance to spend an hour exploring the story – along with that of his creator, Miguel de Cervantes – is a tempting prospect.
Like the book itself, the play is nicely enveloped within a wrapper. A tired man potters around his home before picking up a copy of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, and begins to read the wonderful opening to the book before gradually subsiding into sleep. We’re then launched into the world of Miguel de Cervantes, awoken in his crypt on the anniversary of his death, to recount his life alongside that of his finest creation: Don Quixote de la Mancha.
Michael Daviot has such a rich sonorous voice that the moment he begins to read from the novel, we know we’re in safe hands. He switches between his characters with ease, maintaining a clear distinction between the disappointed but ever-striving Cervantes and the eternal foolhardy optimism of Don Quixote. The use of a domestic props such as a mop, saucepan lid and colander to form Quixote’s knightly accoutrements are a joy to watch, and match Quixote’s naivety perfectly. There is a lovely moment when a strong light shining through the back of the chair – usually used to double for Quixote’s horse Rocinante – makes an impressive prison for Cervantes.
So Daviot is a fine actor, but I’m not sure this play rises to his abilities. It is interesting to see Cervantes’ life laid out alongside that of his greatest creation, Don Quixote – but other than some parallels you can draw between the way both characters ceaselessly strive against the odds, it’s not that illuminating.
There is also the perennial problem of presenting a chronological run-through of a life, in that it rarely follows a satisfying narrative structure. Cervantes was thrown in jail on several occasions, and while I understand the desire to honour historical fact, the play becomes repetitive. By the third time, I simply thought “oh, here we go, he’s in prison again”.
I do leave the venue knowing a little more about both Cervantes and Don Quixote, and with a renewed enthusiasm that I will get round to reading it one day. But mostly, I have delighted in a masterful display of acting and stagecraft from Michael Daviot.