Man of La Mancha

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Fri 20 Apr-Sat 18 May


Recent times might incite us to pray for leaders who believe in nothing. The zealous idealism of our current crop of proselytising free market politicians, and their monomaniac religious opponents might make us hanker sentimentally after the hard-headed pragmatists of a generation ago. Usually, those who have alternative ideas are labelled idealists, but perhaps we need such people for the health of democracy. Dale Wasserman’s musical rendering of Cervante’s novel, presented here, dares to ‘Dream the Impossible Dream’ and became a legendary Broadway hit of the 70s.

‘One image that comes to mind when I think of this play is the student standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square - it’s an act of madness, but there’s such heroism as well. We can take such pride in the idea that a human being has done that.’ So says Pauline Knowles, who’ll be playing Aldonza (the Sofia Loren role, for the film literate) in this revival at the Lyceum of the story of a gentlemanly idealist telling stories to his fellow prisoners in a dungeon during the Spanish Inquisition. Knowles’, an actress of formidable talent, reminded audiences of her abilities as a singer (first explored at Borderline in the early 90s) when she appeared in the NTS’s Tutti Frutti last year.

Knowles points out that Don Quixote’s idealism makes us uncomfortable partially because of our own jaded view of the world. ‘He reminds us of the nobility in ourselves. He reminds us we haven’t just sprung up from the dirt. There’s a choice we make - we can choose to see the negative and be cynical, or we can choose to see the heroism and nobility in life. Usually we choose to believe that the worse choice is the real world, but the other, more positive, world is just as real. When we respond cynically to the world, we take the easy path, but is the real world really that bad, or is that something created by the media to make us conform to a cynical agenda? It’s an open question.’ Go on, tilt at the odd windmill.

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