“It’s a labyrinth, a warren of corridors, and although we’re making a piece of theatre which will sit in one of the larger open spaces, you do have this sense as you watch the show that it keeps disappearing off into corners”
When did you first encounter the story of Don Quixote?
When I was a kid I lived abroad and there was a series of American English language comics which were part of the Cold War American effort to spread English throughout the globe. One of the Classics Illustrated comics was Don Quixote so that’s the first time I came across it. Since then I’ve read it in fits and starts and also seen various film and theatre adaptations – in the seventies there was a stage adaptation called Man of La Mancha which had that famous, rather cheesy song in it, The Impossible Dream. So I’ve been aware of it for a long, long time. It’s not an easy book, it’s very long, and what usually happens when people dramatise it for television or film, is they pick the bits from the story that are best known. So there’s the whole business of him falling in love with the poor servant girl and imagining she’s the lady of quality for whom he jousts, slays dragons and combats evil knights; there’s the famous episode of when he charges the windmills imagining them to be evil giants; and he sets free a group of criminals thinking they are heroes being kept in slavery by villains – there are lots of endearing episodes.
It was published in two parts, the first in 1605 and the second ten years later, what’s its relevance 400 years on?
It used to be assumed life was over by the time you hit 55 but now everybody assumes they are going to live into their eighties or nineties. We are living longer and Don Quixote is significant because it’s about what you do with yourself when the younger world regards you as redundant, when the younger world doesn’t want to know what you think any more. That’s quite relevant to Don Quixote and the fact he invents an adventure for himself.
You directed Creation’s Brave New World in the Westgate last year. What was that experience like?
Really interesting and quite exciting. There were people still shopping until about halfway through the show in the evening, and they didn’t understand what was going on. The show was entirely heard via wireless headphones, so although you could walk into the space and see there was an audience and that there were actors, you didn’t really know the nature of the thing that was going on. In a way the space and the people in the space became the setting for the show.
What is it about Creation that makes you keep working with them?
When you’re watching a theatre show on a stage, you can see the edges of the proscenium arch, and yet you’re supposed to imagine the world you’re seeing within the frame expands beyond the rectangle you’re looking at. The thing I really like about site-specific work is that you don’t have to imagine it expands, you can see it expanding. Creation is one of the few companies in this country that repeatedly does that work using classic film and literature as the basis. A lot of site-specific work that happens in the UK is original, devised by companies, new stories invariably about contemporary issues. I like actually bringing a period into a contemporary setting, reimagining it for a contemporary audience and putting it into a non-traditional space.
Why the Covered Market for Don Quixote?
The Covered Market is very good for us because it’s a labyrinth, a warren of corridors, and although we’re making a piece of theatre which will sit in one of the larger open spaces, you do have this sense as you watch the show that it keeps disappearing off into corners and coming back again. And the building has a less jazzy, up-tempo, sharp-edged character than somewhere like the Westgate; there’s a kind of friendly gentility about the Covered Market that means it’s very much in sympathy with the content of the show.