Helen Rawlings reviews ‘Don Quixote’ at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon Avon

English Literature undergraduate Helen Rawlings, a seasoned theatre critic, reports on a special RSC production at Stratford -upon Avon.

Having never been to the Swan Theatre and not knowing anything about Don Quixote I wasn’t sure what to expect. Little did I know I would be in for such a treat. The comic tale adapted by James Fenton and based on Miguel De Cervantes classic novel,  was a visual masterpiece. So, we meet Don Quixote (David Threllfall) who has spent his life reading about brave knights, damsels in distress and their exciting adventures. He decides that simply reading these stories is no longer enough for him, he must set off into the world and experience being a Knight first hand. What follows is nothing short of comic genius as Sancho Panza (Rufus Hound) joins Don Quixote on his challenges. From stealing Barbers basins to fighting windmills and beating up priests, Don Quixote bumbles his way through his quest to be a gallant knight and win the hand of his ‘imaginary’ lady Dulcinea del Toboso. 
The leads were majestically performed by Threllfall and Hound, both demonstrating impressive acting ability. Not to mention the supporting cast who were all a hardworking and talented bunch. Special mention has to be for the impressive puppetry, the horses, sheep and the lion all added to the magic of the play. The set was simple but was used to full effect, the simplicity capturing the essence of this medieval play. The theatre itself was beautiful and intimate, this intimacy helped the audience feel very involved and at times certain members of the audience were really part of the action. Arguably, the finest play I have ever seen. It is playing in Stratford-Upon-Avon until May 21st so catch it whilst you can. One not to be missed. Simply marvellous.

Student discount for two special shows at Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre until 31 October

Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre is offering discount tickets for two great productions this October. You can see Brave New World and A Winter’s Tale for only £10 per ticket. Check your University email for details and the special booking code you’ll need to use when you book online. We’re very grateful to our friends at the Everyman for this offer. 

Three great names in theatre


Regular readers of this blog know that we love Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre.  Designed by the Victorian architect Frank Matcham, the Everyman has been at the centre of the town’s cultural life since 1891. Each autumn, we take our new students to the Everyman for a guided tour behind the scenes, and it remains a very special place for all students of English Literature at the University.

Last week, the Everyman hosted a performance of Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey, in a new production by the celebrated Hull Truck Theatre company. Now with a permanent base in Hull, this touring company lived on the road for many years, travelling around Britian’s small theatres. Its founding director John Godber gave up teaching for a peripatetic life in theatre, writing and producing many of Hull Truck’s plays as well as developing an extended repertoire of new, modern and classic plays.

The Everyman, Hull Truck, and Delaney: I wasn’t going to miss the chance to experience three great names in British theatre. I was also curious to see how the play would be performed. The Everyman’s proscenium arch was designed for a particular type of nineteenth-century theatrical experience. John Barnes notes that to modernist writers ‘the proscenium appeared conservative and restrictive, encouraging a private response in each spectator rather than a shared audience experience.’* Yet far from separating the audience from the action, the arch invites us to step through the frame while reminding us that art is not life itself, but life represented, mediated, made more intense and universal.

Mark Babych’s excellent new production explores the claustrophobic physical and mental spaces of Delaney’s radical play.  A buckled street lamp projects just beyond the edge of the arch, and between scenes the actors (who are also singers and musicians) step forward, stand under the dismal low-watt light to sing or play the washboard or ukelele. A grim iron walkway marks the entrance to the unheated one-room flat where the action takes place, its lattice standing in for the gasworks that the characters (but not the audience) see when they look out of the window. Like the stage set, the songs refer to a world beyond, and drew collective recognition and response from the audience; the actor playing Helen kept breaking the fourth wall, addressing the audience directly.

The best dramatic productions use material and spatial conditions to project a world, and to project us, the audience, into that world. Only our imaginations lay down the limits.

*Reference: The Oxford Companion to Theatre and Performance, ed. Dennis Kennedy (Oxford: OUP 2010), p. 481.

Images: Shelagh Delaney, early 1960s. Hull Truck Theatre. Decorated safety curtain at Cheltenham’s Everyman theatre.


A new publication and a new direction in cross-disciplinary research

Bloomsbury Influences: Papers from the Bloomsbury Adaptations Conference, Bath Spa University, 5-6 May 2011
Professor Shelley Saguaro and Lucy Tyler have contributed to this new collection of essays, edited by E. H Wright. In this collaborative essay, entitled ‘”Nature Once More Had Taken Her Part”: Recuperating Anon, the Common Voice and the Uncovered Theatre’, ‘the pageant performed by the villagers in Woolf’s Between the Acts is linked to “ecoperformance”, a theoretical approach which explores the pressures places on al fresco theatre by the natural world. As well as how and why it has become an important part of British culture. Woolf, according to Saguaro and Tyler, “offers a compelling example of outdoor theatre and its practitioners’ methodologies, which can be compared (and are useful) to a contemporary practice of the art form”.’ (E.H Wright, Introduction).

All the world’s a stage

Cheltenham is a great town for lovers of the dramatic arts. The School of Humanities has long-standing partnerships with local theatres. Dr Rebecca Bailey, Senior Lecture in English Literature, and her students have been very busy lately on the dramatic front. Here’s her report:

This term returning students have benefitted from wonderful local opportunities to enrich their studies. In October, third year students from EX340 had front row seats at the Cheltenham Literary Festival for a conversation with award winning, contemporary playwright, Jez Butterworth. Talking about his new play, The River, currently running at London’s Royal Court Theatre and reflecting on the success of Jerusalem (2009), Butterworth discussed the role of the playwright in contemporary society. A fascinating experience for staff and students alike!
Second year students from the Stages of Drama module have enjoyed theatre trips to the beautifully restored Cheltenham Everyman Theatre to see Oscar Wilde’s delightful comedy The Importance of Being Earnest and Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good. Both texts are discussed on the module and students relished the chance to see such excellent live performances.

Whilst, last week, students from the Renaissance, Restoration, Revolution module ventured to Bristol’s Old Vic for a rare chance to see John Ford’s classic revenge tragedy ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore. Produced by the renowned Cheek by Jowl theatre company, this was an electrifying and darkly funny staging which gave a fascinating insight into the early modern imagination.
 More theatrical delights are in the offing! I understand the English Society is planning a trip to see the terrifying Woman in Black later this month and I’ve heard whispers about a Christmas pantomime extravaganza and a trip to Stratford to see As You Like It in the spring.