The new interpretation of Don Quijote, brought to HOME by Emma Frankland and Keir Cooper, uses Cervantes’ classic novel to explore the importance of standing up for what you believe in.
Or so I’m told.
For while I bought a ticket and took a seat in the middle of the performance area with 70 others on the pillow provided, I saw no more than ten minutes of the production.
Those ten minutes were enjoyable, filled with promise.
After being informed that we should be prepared to move around the intimate space throughout – both to get the best view and to avoid being in the actors’ way – an ingenious light show, courtesy of a torch being shone onto a black wall, via a model set, introduced us to the protagonist, Don Quijote.
— Kate Turner (@katejessturner2) April 15, 2016
Don himself then made his first appearance, or rather her first appearance, as a blanket was removed from a chair to reveal Verity Henry, our lead for the night.
She portrayed Quijote – a gentleman who spends more time reading novels than working and eventually loses himself to ideas of grand adventure, dons a suit of armour and travels the world as an intrepid, but misguided knight – with humour and mischief.
The audience was invited to aid her in dressing herself in her own armour. And by that I mean we haphazardly attacked her with duck tape to ensure the cardboard box she held around waist would only be removed by extreme force.
And then she pointed at me, and my use in describing what happened in that theatre comes to an end.
For, unbeknownst to me, I had been chosen to become Don Quijote’s faithful squire Sancho Panza, and off we skipped to have an adventure of our own.
“What about the world do you want to change, Sancho?” Don Quijote asked me, as we stood shivering on Medlock Street.
“I don’t particularly know,” I responded.
“Where would you like to go to decide?” Quijote enquired.
And so it was that I ended up sat in the City Road Inn, dressed in an oversized trench coat and holding a rose, drinking Fosters with Don Quijote, who was wearing a cycling helmet and a cardboard box, discussing the meaning of life while attracting very odd looks from the locals.
I was, I discovered, in an alternative play, one in which the storyline was going to be decided by my actions. And seeing as the role of Don Quijote is played by a different guest actor every night, Verity had about as much of an idea of what was going to happen as I did.
Together, between explaining to the barman that we didn’t particularly know what was going on and tearing pages from a copy of the book, we developed a mission statement for how I was going to change the world.
Satisfied, Quijote announced it was time to return to the theatre.
Standing backstage, she announced that I had come far, and it was now my time to become Don Quijote, before ceremoniously handing me the bike helmet.
I strapped the buckle under my chin with a somewhat haunted look in my eyes, as it became clear that the two plays were about to become one again.
The plan: we were to triumphantly ride a pair of toy horses into the theatre, where I would read my mission statement as a sign of the knowledge I had acquired from our adventure.
The problem: I’ve never considered myself much of a thespian, and didn’t particularly have any wish to have that opinion changed.
But things had gone too far for turning back.
As a drumbeat reached a crescendo my heart followed suit, and I wished I’d gone for a whiskey at the City Road Inn, not a weak lager.
— Emma Frankland (@elbfrankland) April 15, 2016
We got our cue, and galloped majestically into the theatre, side by side. Whether the audience realised that one of their own had now become the titular character is anybody’s guess.
My monologue was delivered – you really can’t see the audience when the light is in your face, a strangely comforting phenomenon – and as swiftly as my rise to the peak of theatre had been, it ended, as I was pointedly asked to sit back down and get out of the way.
All that was left was for Verity, who was now Don Quijote again I think, although she may well still have been Sancho Panza, or herself, or somebody else entirely, to tear a few more pages from the book and blow them over the crowd sat at her feet like nursery students, all to the backdrop of The Impossible Dream.
The lights came up, and I was invited to take a bow before a crowd who, judging off their smiles, must have seen a pretty decent spectacle.
Whether that is the case or not, I will never know.
For my experience was greater than any of theirs. I became Don Quijote, if only for an hour, and had my own adventure, writing my own chapter in the ongoing history of Cervantes’ masterpiece.
Or at least that’s one way of looking at it.
Alternatively, I got a free pint at a decent boozer and a good story for the grandkids.
But either way, Don Quijote at HOME was an experience I’m not likely to forget in a hurry.
Image courtesy of Mighty Heart Theatre, via Twitter, with thanks