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LIGHTS! DONKEY! ACTION! [Edinburgh Fringe]

Written By:

Anne Fortune

by Anne-Louise Fortune

Lights!, Donkey! Action! from Babolin Theatre is a bold attempt to bring the legendary story of Don Quixote to the stage, in a one-hour adaptation of the epic Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes. 

The novel is infamously difficult to adapt, a situation the show engages with, noting that Terry Gilliam worked for almost thirty years to make a version of the story, and Orson Welles suffered a similar ‘development hell’ leaving his version unfinished when he died. 

The framing mechanism for this theatrical piece is that Frederico, a film director, has three weeks to make their version, following budgetary cutbacks. That three-weeks suddenly becomes no weeks, as the producer telephones to say that they gambled the budget away, and the film must therefore be scrapped. 

Despondent, Frederico travels to Spain, where he encounters a local factory’s theatre troupe, who, each year, win awards for their staging of selected scenes from the 1000-page book. This is, as all the characters concede, a remarkably clever approach. The factory theatre troupe by now has a ‘back catalogue’ of the most famous scenes, and agree with Frederico to perform a selection, in a variety of different performance styles. 

What follows is a whistle stop tour through the bits everyone knows of the four-hundred year old novel. In ‘Whose Line is it anyway?’ style, the scenes, ‘picked’ out of a bucket, are presented with musical accompaniment. So we see ‘windmills’ in a ‘minimalism’ style, and ‘encounters with prisoners’ in a ‘silent movie’ style. It’s all very well done, and also possibly the most definitively ‘fringe’ production we’ve seen at this year’s festival. 

The cast of young actors, all dressed alike in beige boiler suits, is multi-talented, as many of them play the music that accompanies many of the scenes. They also have an incredibly wide-range of theatre styles under their belts, from shadow puppetry to physical comedy. The show itself is an absurdist confection, with more than a dash of melodrama. Somehow all these disparate elements blend together well, and amongst the chaos, a kind of serenity emerges, as the heart of the Don Quixote story is conveyed. 

A clever adaptation of an infamous novel, Lights! Donkey! Action! Is a warm and energetic hour of theatre. 


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