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Man Of La Mancha

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
3 stars
One can only wonder what poet WH Auden, the original lyricist of Dale Wasserman’s 1965 musical, would’ve made of this Spanish Inquisition-set play within a play. As a writer himself, in having an incarcerated Cervantes attempting to save his skin (and his unpublished manuscript) by acting out Don Quixote’s hapless adventures in a world gone mad, Auden’s approach might have been somewhat darker than Joe Darion, who got the gig with composer Mitch Leigh if he’d not somewhat ironically been taken off-project.

As it is, much of Martin Duncan’s boutique revival is an appealingly knockabout if throwaway romp with the air of an extended Two Ronnies sketch. Only in the second half does Quixote/Cervantes argue that solely through poetry and fantasy can life’s pains be forgotten. True as this may be, such notions of freedom of expression sound like a voguish fancy of the play’s 1960s origins. Indeed, beyond its call to creative arms for real-life imprisoned authors, this is justification for the escapist trappings of all musicals.

Duncan’s masterstroke is to have his cast of 12 double up as an onstage band. The effect, under the guidance of Musical Director Robert Pettigrew, is to create a junkyard orchestra who add to the ongoing fantastical intent on Francis O’Connor’s expansively roughshod set. This makes for some grandly impressive tableaux that lend proceedings a strength and grandeur they probably don’t deserve. Because, despite Nicholas Pound’s appositely under-wrought rendition of The Impossible Dream, this paean to the power of the imagination is the only real stand-out. It’s nevertheless a treat to see Pauline Knowles take centre-stage as feisty love interest Aldonza in a handsomely realised but largely inconsequential affair.

The Herald, April 23rd 2007

ends

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