Two months after Only Fools and Horses opened in London, one of the sitcom’s original stars is appearing in a very different kind of musical just a short three-wheeler ride away.
Nicholas Lyndhurst plays the dual roles of the Governor and Innkeeper in this revival of Man of La Mancha, a version of the Don Quixote story which hasn’t been seen in the West End since 1968.
Top of the bill is US sitcom star Kelsey “Frasier” Grammer as Cervantes/Quixote with Peter Polycarpou as Cervantes’ manservant/Sancho Panza.
What a strange musical this, both in structure and tone. Dale Wasserman’s book uses a play-within-a-play device which begins with Cervantes imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition.
When his fellow inmates threaten to burn his manuscript of Don Quixote he asked them to join him in acting out his story as a diversion, using the costumes from his trunk.
The design of the show is possibly the best thing about it. The action takes place in the basement of a bombed-out museum, now being used as a makeshift jail, with chunks of blasted concrete still hanging precariously from a hole in the ceiling. James Noone’s set is deliberately drab until it explodes into life and colour as Don Quixote’s fantastic tale unfolds.
Director Lonny Price’s decision to set the prison scenes in a futuristic fascist state, while keeping the Quixote story firmly in the Spain of the 1600s, is a bold choice that pays dividends in the musical’s darker second act.
This includes the abduction and rape of serving girl Aldonza in a well-choreographed dance sequence that is a difficult watch.
Thankfully there’s humour too: I particularly enjoyed the sight of Lyndhurst’s Innkeeper knighting Quixote in his nightshirt and cap.
Grammer has a rich voice and belts out the show’s best-known song The Impossible Dream, but the best vocal performance by a long way comes from Danielle de Niese as Aldonza/Dulcinea. (She shares the role with Cassidy Janson).
With its quirks and tonal shifts, Man of La Mancha is a peculiar musical experience, but one I found curiously enjoyable.
Man of La Mancha is at the London Coliseum until 8 June.