(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/ 4.)
As the 400th anniversary of Cervantes’s death coincides with that of Shakespeare, it seems right that the RSC should bring this most multitudinous of novels to the stage. James Fenton has done a heroic job in compressing a vast narrative into three hours and a lovely, music-filled production unites an RSC veteran, David Threlfall, with a welcome debutant, Rufus Hound. The paradox of the evening, however, is that this version is at its least successful where the novel is at its greatest.
The first half is a joyous piece of popular theatre. It introduces us to two characters whom we seem to have known since childhood: the deluded Quixote, who seeks to bring the age of romantic chivalry back to Spain, and his earthy, illiterate squire, Sancho Panza. Fenton skilfully incorporates all the familiar episodes. We see the Don tilting at windmills, mistaking flocks of sheep for armies and liberating galley-slaves, who turn on him with a vengeance.