Don Quijote at the Camden People’s Theatre
The audience sits on cushions scattered on the floor of the Camden People’s Theatre, to watch, or perhaps more accurately to take part in, a performance as immersive as it is baffling. The production takes place around and in between the viewers, thrown upon the walls in an array of dodgy multimedia effects from shadow play (which is, at first, dreamy until it becomes tedious), a Skype interview and a sequence of TV stills.
Tom Frankland takes the bare bones of Miguel de Cervantes’ 15th century novel, Don Quixote, and attempts to do something brave with it. His outline is perceptible – he gives us the central character, Alonso Quijano, who obsessed with notions of chivalry, sets off on an adventure after decking himself in cardboard armour fixed with gaffer tape and dragging a member of the audience with him. Quijano is played by a different actor for every performance. This evening the show was helmed by Hannah Nicklin. This instability is one of the multiple anarchic and irreverent takes on the original text.
Frankland quite literally takes a chainsaw to a hard copy of Cervantes’ novel, instructing the audience to take a page each. His repeated fracture of the original narrative into such small fragments, and his confrontational approach to storytelling, means that there is very little left to grasp onto. The central character is absent for most of the piece, while those performers who are left – including Keir Cooper and a Spaniard called Anton who turns out to be false – dive into miniature narratives that are totally obscuring. Think a pre-recorded Skype call parading as a televised interview and a sooth-saying monkey playing the drums.
Abstraction pulls more neatly together in the production’s final moments, as Frankland narrates his own Don Quijote-esque heroes from TV stills – here the political message is evident as he reels out individuals such as Brian Haw (who camped in Parliament Square for almost a decade in protest of UK foreign policy) and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot. The message, then – “A Quijote says to the world, f**k that, and decides to do things differently.” The parallels between Cervantes’ unconventional action hero and the environmental and political heroes of today are finally drawn, though not artfully articulated. Frankland takes the bare skeleton of Cervantes’ text as a vehicle for his own message, but eventually it seems a puerile one after much preamble.
Don Quijote is at the Camden People’s Theatre until 25th January 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.