Man of La Mancha (4 stars)

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 19 May


There’s an impressive gusto to Dale Wasserman’s version, with words by Joe Darion and music by Mitch Leigh, of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. There is also a certain underlying complexity in its insistent questioning of reality, idealism and madness, where each masquerades as the other.

In it, Cervantes is imprisoned by the inquisition, and in order to save a manuscript his fellow prisoners look set to burn, performs the document for their amusement. Cervantes (Nicholas Pound) transforms into Don Quixote, and his manservant (Stephen Elias) into Sancho Panza. From here we see the dark and insalubrious countryside around him become his imagined noble kingdom full of chivalrous codes and conflicts, while an abused serving wench (Pauline Knowles) morphs into his courtly lady.

Martin Duncan’s production in front of Francis O’Connor’s splendid prison yard set shows a vitality and humour that keeps the pace up from start to end. Pound’s slick and accomplished Cervantes, full of wily old West End tricks, is a particular treat, and Elias, his, surprisingly Welsh, sidekick, shows plenty of guileful wit in his numptyish straightman. Strong support, too comes from George Drennan in a succession of roles. Ultimately, the power comes from a slow build up of emotional empathy for the wise fool at the centre, so skilfully crafted by Duncan that the sense of sadness and exhilaration at the climax sneaks up and pleasantly surprises you.

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