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Man of La Mancha review: What a mess – Kelsey Grammar cannot save this Impossible Dream

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The absolute nadir of the show was the extremely prolonged, uncomfortable and borderline gratuitous attack, battering (head-butting included) and off-stage gang rape of Aldonza. Utterly misjudged. Bad enough in 1965, unforgivable now when it served absolutely no point to the plot to be depicted that way.

Yes, Quijano is deluded and actually places others in danger when he sweeps them into his madness, but there was no excuse for that particular way of making an already obvious point. Nor is it remotely clear why she would return at the end to try and reignite his dreams.

Perhaps, merely to kick off the powerful and plaintive group finale of Impossible Dream which finally, and far too late, raised a few goosebumps.

This show should be a whimsical romp with some sharp points to make about the best and worst extremes of human nature. Instead, we should dream the entirely possible dream it won’t be seen on the London stage for at least another 50 years.

Grammer is a fine actor with a commanding voice and presence but seemed strangely underwhelming. Yes, the character is fundamentally foolish, but without somehow finding the innate nobility of what he represents, the entire show falls apart.

Musicals often paper over the cracks with belting big numbers but while he can carry a tune he does not have the lungs to bring the roof down on Impossible Dream and Man of La Mancha.

He is paired Peter Polycarpou’s capering manservant/Sanch Panza who makes the best of an intermittently amusing role while Nicolas Lyndhurst is equally strong as the menacing Governor and sozzled Innkeeper.

The powerhouse role of the show is prostitute Aldonza/Dulcinea, played with conviction and charisma on opening night by opera star Danielle de Niese. Unfortunately, she also has to carry one of the worst scenes I have ever seen on stage.

Dale Wasserman’s oddity of a book imagines the author Cervantes thrown into prison awaiting trial by the Inquisition. To protect himself from fellow inmates he creates a play within a play where takes on the role of the deluded chap Alonso Quijano who believes he is the fictional knight Don Quixote.

As so often recently, productions scrabble to seem relevant, so the setting is a quasi-modern ghetto complete with searchlights, graffiti and a multi-cultural cast. Yet it still refers to the Inquisition. Where are we? When are we?

It’s fine to show one of the inmates (a fine-voiced Minal Patel) praying to Mecca, but why then have him take on the role of the Catholic priest? A political or religious statement? Irony?

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