The truth as we know it has become subjective and individual. Facts that may be true to you and I may be complete falsehoods to another. The story of real life writer Miguel de Cervantes, as told by Miguel de Cervantes, is an interesting starting point to begin. As directed by Franko Figueiredo, it is a shame that the vibrant background to Condor Theatre’s Don Quixote in Algiers is not realised at the White Bear Theatre.
We begin simply, meeting Cervantes later in life when he is isolated, about to be released from capture. He is haunted by a memory from years ago, and the voices that surround him beg for the truth that led to this point. Through a series of flashbacks, we discover his capture by pirates and his various attempts to escape. This in turn leads him into the company of Si Ali and his family. His daughter Zohra has been arranged a marriage and shares Cervantes’ need to escape. The two must trust each other enough to achieve their freedom. The form of the novel on which this is based allows for the detail and complexity this story requires. Whittled down to an hour and forty minutes, the stage is far less forgiving.
To begin with, Dermot Murphy’s script struggles to contain all the details he wishes to include. A lack of focus leads to some plodding action that struggles to maintain attention. Some nice lines arise but these come few and far between. The conflict in religion between Ali and Cervantes, Muslim and Christian respectively, is a potentially fascinating exchange but is played for bitty, unconvincing laughs. A much-needed focus and momentum begins to build towards the end but by this point interest has somewhat waned. With this stagnant nature, the hour and forty minutes becomes both an imprisonment for Cervantes and the audience.
Franko Figueiredo’s direction, however, proves simple and effective despite the material. He gives his actors space and the play works best in group scenes. To reflect Cervantes’ haunting voices, a nice idea sees live microphones put to the side. He is complemented by Natalie Jackson’s design, a wash of blues with stacks of papers piled high in the back corner. It suits these dotted isolation scenes, appearing lonely and withdrawn but less convincing in other locations. There are hints throughout of what could have been.
Performances from all members of the cast are functional without arousing a huge amount of emotion. Rachel Summers brings life to Zohra and conveys her need to escape, whereas Alvaro Flores brings an appearing naivety to Cervantes. In all however some varied intonations to lines fail to land and some seemingly confused motivations add a further layer of impenetrability to those watching.
Overall this piece buckles under the weight of what came before and its own rich legacy. There are prevalent and far reaching themes surrounding religion and the perspective of truth buried somewhere. But ultimately these appear shallow and lacking depth in a new play that would do best to remain in captivity.
Don Quixote in Algiers is playing The White Bear Theatre until March 4.
Photo: Kwaku Kyei