London Theatre Review: Man of La Mancha at the London Coliseum
| By Harrison Fuller
Man of La Mancha has returned to the West End after a fifty-year absence. The show is playing at the London Coliseum as part of Michaels Grade and Linnet’s plan to revive old classics. This much-anticipated revival stars Broadway and television legend, Kelsey Grammer, alongside our own home-grown comedy legend, Nicolas Lyndhurst.
In the sumptuous setting of the Coliseum, the score, written by Mitch Leigh, fills every nook and cranny. It is wonderfully textured, deeply evocative, and presented with aplomb by the illustrious ENO Orchestra.
The show begins with Cervantes being put into prison awaiting trial by the Spanish Inquisition (something no one expects!) He is incarcerated with faithful retainer, Sancho Panza (played by the versatile and reliable Peter Polycarpou), and the two become the subjects of a kangaroo court established by the other inmates. Cervantes tells a tale of a brave knight named Don Quixote as part of his defence and the inmates fill the roles of the other characters in the play, which becomes the focus of Man of La Mancha.
The first act of the show, while having some highlights, including Lyndhurst’s turn as a drunken innkeeper, is very loose and meandering. It lacks a definitive structure, which then affects the pace. It feels as though it needed a little tightening of the script and plot to sit well with modern audiences. This is not aided by the direction, which at times is very static, again slowing the pace and storytelling.
The second half is much better and does go some way to tie up many of the loose ends of Act I. However, it feels that had the first half been on par with the second, the overall reaction would be a lot stronger. When the end is reached, Lyndhurst’s Governor (in the real world not the play within a play) decides he doesn’t like the ending presented by Cervantes and thereby requests to hear a new one. The confused and wandering knight and his companions recreate a different ending that is full of emotion and saves the show.
While the show has not been in town for fifty years, and perhaps won’t be for another fifty without a major rework, it remains popular in other countries around the world and has enjoyed award-winning revivals elsewhere. If nothing else, it is a rare chance to see an operatic musical that has its place in the history of musical theatre even if it doesn’t have its place in the present.
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