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Man of La Mancha: London Coliseum

May 22, 2019

(seen at the afternoon performance on 15th May 2019)

I’ve always been allergic to the song, “The Impossible Dream.” It’s either a dirge wrung out by some idiot on “Britain’s Got No Talent Whatsoever,” or beaten to death by an enthusiastic choir of one type or another (gospel and youth seem particularly keen on it). When the chance came to put the number in context, as you can imagine, I unwillingly grabbed it.

As it turns out, the song is the first act closer, and Kelsey Grammer (Don Quixote) gives it a lovely reflective meaning, the high-point of an otherwise disappointing show.

These days we consider mental illness something we are moving towards being able to discuss – and attempt as a wider public to understand. This could be the reason this tale of a philosophical old man becoming a knight and having chaotic encounters with everything from a windmill to a dodgy innkeeper and local hooker / barmaid, just feels uncomfortable now.

Director Lonny Price decides to set it in a museum (programme notes – James Noone’s set could be anything) turned prison basement, with Quixote talking his way through a trial by other prisoners as he awaits the real thing. The time is any, so is the place. It works to an extent, as the chorus are dragged into the action and don relevant clothing.

Sadly, the material has aged. Already alluded to is the mental health angle, but there’s a particularly unsavoury rape in the second half, with victim Aldonza / Dulcinea (Cassidy Janson) unbearably treated. Her solo “Aldonza” is one of the better parts of the piece, but hard to concentrate on, given the context.

As Quixote’s squire Sancho Panza, Peter Polycarpou is his usual musical theatre self, a proper actor who can command the huge stage and fill it with his voice. By contrast, Governor / Innkeeper Nicholas Lyndhurst has to overcome a lack of singing ability – but almost makes credible the prison bully as much as the dodgy landlord (ironically once a role Polycarpou played in ‘Les Misérables,’ come to think of it).

The rest of the show is a bit blurry. The company numbers sound better than most of the solo work. The dance routines are pretty thin and lost against the strange set with a staircase possibly welded together from a re-discovered “Starlight Express” bridge.

Coming off worst is the book. A series of short inter-connected incidents, none are of any particular interest and fail to sustain the attention.

The score has a couple of decent numbers beyond the best known, and the full orchestra make it sound as good as possible even if the sound department don’t always find the balance between them and the singing performers.

For those who enjoy whimsy and can overlook the possible dementia angle, it may be an enjoyable enough encounter. For the monkey, it was afraid it was wondering if Frasier had lost a bet with Niles on this one.

The show moved often at glacial pace, felt both dated and even twee at times when it wasn’t being as un-politically correct as it could be. A chance to see and understand just why it hasn’t been done in London commercially since 1968 – and probably won’t be again if producers have any sense.

The last of the variable Grade / Linnit musical theatre experiments with the ENO, and probably a good time to call it quits.

2 stars.

 

Taking a week off, back blogging on the 5th June. Enjoy the bank holiday week!

 

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