What an unpretentious, inventive and smartly silly delight this tongue-in-cheek treatment of Cervantes is. Okay, not all of the gags (whether scripted or ad-libbed) hit home. And perhaps the zesty levity that Little Soldier Production’s laugh-hunting efforts often achieve isn’t consistently sustained. But that’s part of the frisky, risky nature of this young company. As a newcomer to the work of co-artistic directors Merce Ribot and Patricia Rodriguez, I certainly felt like I’d been given a genuinely warm and rib-tickling treat.
A large part of the pleasure one takes in Little Soldier’s pacey Don Q piss-take is due to how alive the performers are to our collective presence. Stephen Harper (who has also, as this Told By An Idiot associate artist will have us know, not irrelevantly performed in War Horse) starts out as the titular character but later switches gears as the stand-in for all windmills. Ribot, who initially makes brief appearances as a Dulcinea drenched in red light and self-regard, later takes over that self-deluding role and, ironically, brings a greater and legitimate dignity to it without scuppering the show’s predominantly comic edge.
Rodriguez unabashedly garners the most laughs as a big-eyed, rubber-faced Sancho Panza. She is, in a word, hilarious. Rounding out the cast is dead-pan, dolorous musician Maria Camahort, said to speak no English (a deliberate lie) and first heard strumming – and beautifully, too – on her guitar. She also serves as an occasional Foley artist.
A colleague has referred to Little Soldier’s Python-like approach to Cervantes, but I also detected some of the zany spirit of Mel Brooks. These aren’t at all bad models, theatrically speaking, from which to operate. ‘The ingenious Gentleman…’ was, for the record, devised by the company along with director Ian Nicholson, dramaturg Tiffany Wood and others (including Spymonkey member Aitor Basauri). Staged on and around a free-standing platform designed by Sophia Simensky, it looks handsome in an economical way.
There’s no telling who was responsible for some of the bits – for example, the tears of crystal (little glass balls that roll down slanted, midnight-blue fabric), or a sheep attack rendered by us in the audience as a furious and fun pillow throw – but they work. I loved Harper’s all-too-brief stint with a Psychic Monkey, and Rodriguez’s arse being set on fire via a brightly-coloured blanket with balls on it plus a feather duster. There’s also a terrific little episode involving a fast, terse argument on horseback and donkey, with the actors leaping on and off each other’s doubled-over rumps. And I haven’t even mentioned the post-modern, stepping-out-of-character conflicts between company members – a familiar device, sure, but one that also works.
At some point the cheeky Rodriguez coins the terms ‘feedforward’ as opposed to feedback – that is, an attempt to solicit our thoughts and feelings about the show as it’s happening rather than after the fact. Call it what you will, but all I can say is that I spent the majority of my time at Little Soldier’s show grinning like a happy idiot.
The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote Of La Mancha is back at Vault Festival from 24-28th Jan, 2018. Book tickets here.