I must open with a confession: The Man of La Mancha is my favourite musical, but until now that has been a difficult thing to admit. The problem was that I had only seen the 1972 film version starring Peter O’Toole and Sophia Loren. It’s well-written and well-acted, but the songs feel largely flat and uninspiring. It seemed wrong that my favourite musical should contain such unimpressive music.
This production freed me. In the intimate Reginald Theatre, every song came alive. Every actor held the attention and the electricity of the room exactly where it needed to be. This was the play done right.
The show takes place in a prison, where Miguel de Cervantes awaits the awful justice of the Spanish Inquisition. The other prisoners foist upon him a mock trial, where he is forced to defend his idealism. He conducts his defence through drama, performing his masterwork Don Quixote as a charade. Along the way, he slowly draws the prisoners around him deeper and deeper into the adventures of his noble-but-hapless knight, with the prosecution and the defence sparring in both the claustrophobic jail, and in the world Cervantes weaves.
The Man of La Mancha goes further perhaps than any other musical in its thematic grappling; displaying and genuinely wrestling with true horrors – both systematic injustices and personal brutalities. Unlike Don Quixote himself, this play does not tilt at spectres.
The Man of La Mancha is running at the Seymour Centre until March 21. Tickets at 02 9351 7940 or www.seymourcentre.com