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February 2005
Spanish Interludes
Don Quixote has inspired films, a ballet and a cartoon
Don Quixote has inspired films, a ballet and a cartoon


Spanish Interludes

The Burton Taylor

15th - 19th February

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By Hazel Tyldesley

This year marks the 400th anniversary of Miguel de Cervantes' world famous masterpiece Don Quixote. But as Spanish Interludes at the Burton Taylor shows, this great man's talents weren't exhausted in the writing of his epic novel.

Oxford's newly-established Playwriting and Dramaturgy society have chosen and translated three of the author's 'entremeses'. These brief farcical sketches, designed to be performed between the acts of a main play, all brim with song, slapstick and sharp satire.

Translators of Cervantes' work have always faced the daunting task of capturing the author's puns and witty remarks, which trot along as fast as Quixote's faithful nag, Rocinante. The Playwriting and Dramaturgy have done an admirable job in keeping the bawdiness and bite of the original texts. Their accessible, free-flowing interpretation loses none of the author's subversion and self-mocking irony.

The first of the three interludes, The Marvellous Puppet Show (El retablo de las maravillas), combines pure farce with an uncomfortably accurate observation of conformity and religious intolerance. On the busy stage the cast members have to fight for the audience's attention. Most of the highly exaggerated characters are projected with confidence and comic timing. However the protagonists' stage presence is such that the more minor characters are sometimes unconvincing in comparison.

The Jealous Old Man (El viejo celoso) follows up next. The scowling, phlegmatic 70-year-old, is wonderfully captured by an energetic Paul Tosio. Almost exhausting to watch, Tosio fleshes out every single line of Cervantes' script and deservedly receives the audience's gales of laughter following his character Cañizares' gruff admission that he is even jealous of the skirts which brush against his young wife's legs. Beth Mc Leod as Ceñizares' wife Lorenza does not let herself be overshadowed by Tosio's larger-than-life performance. She brings a cheeky feminine confidence to her role as the frustrated victim of a social marriage.

The final interlude, The Watchdog (La guarda cuidadosa), finds Tosio once again apparently deriving great enjoyment from his enthusiastic portrayal of a rather grotesque character. He is the soldier, vying for the attention of the lovely Cristina (Elizabeth Bogie). However he has a rival in the form of a Señor Gherkin, the Sexton (Alexis Gallagher). The latter is also besotted with the girl, suggestively stating that he thinks of her every time he rings his bells. In the church, of course.

Each of the three short plays cumulates in a lively release of the dramatic tension through song and dance. The accompanying music has been composed specially by members of the group, and the Spanish rhythms help root the performance in the culture of Cervantes' birthplace.

Spanish Interludes is overall a hugely impressive creative feat, which has clearly required many hours of hard work translating, composing, interpreting and rehearsing. "What madness and foolishness!" cries one of the characters as the farce unfolds in The Jealous Old Man. But the Playwriting and Dramaturgy Society were certainly not foolish to attempt to bring Cervantes' genius to a new audience. Here's hoping that through them, Oxford audiences will be treated to many more gems of world theatre in the future.

The views expressed in these comments are those of the contributor's and not the BBC.

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