BWW Review: MAN OF LA MANCHA at St Jude's Hall

BWW Review: MAN OF LA MANCHA at St Jude's HallReviewed by Pam Watts, Thursday 15th November 2018,

St. Jude's Players have created an impressive production of Man of La Mancha that definitely measures up to a delightful evening's entertainment. This musical has Graham Loveday starring as the famous author, Miguel Cervantes, and his alter ego, Don Quixote. Set in the period of the Spanish Inquisition in the 1600s, Cervantes must survive a mock trial, and creates his alter ego in order to defend himself though imaginary and whimsical ideals and quests. Wade Schiell, creates the comedic faithful servant, Sancho Panza, who is trying to be dutiful to his master's realities. Don Quixote is charged with the quest to right the wrongs he finds and to win the heart of his good woman. Billie Turner is cast as Aldonza, the woman of ill-repute who becomes Don Quixote's love ideal, Dulcinea. With the realisation that his idealistic dreams and realities actually collide with the perceptions of others, the most poignant moment is based around the song, To Dream the Impossible Dream. We all laugh at the foolishness of Don Quixote but we all enjoy the world of fantasy, as it is far more engaging than reality itself. With Quixote's statement that the "facts get in the way of the truth", we smile and confront our own reality.

Graham Loveday is admirable in the role of Don Quixote, his voice carried these beautiful songs with strength and control. Wade Schiell, as Sancho Panza, is vocally very capable and able to control the subtleties of his comedic character through some very clever eye movements. Billie Turner is just stunning, both vocally and with her characterisation of Aldonza. She is able to carry her complex songs with clarity and power and yet express the vulnerability necessary for this tragic figure, particularly in the song, What Do You Want of Me? From what I saw tonight I expect that Turner will achieve a successful career in her future. It is difficult to single out all individual performers other than the lead roles but I wish to comment that Rob Jones displayed outstanding performance skills and stagecraft in his characters of the Governor and Innkeeper. I do wish to credit all of the cast for a wonderful evening of theatre.

Max Rayner used his ample skills to direct this musical, with the assistance of a large team from actors, musicians, designers, and production teams. Choreography both for the Gypsy Dancer and the general use of stage movements are also a credit to Max Rayner. The complexities of a large-scale production in the confines of this performance space are huge. I am impressed with all aspects of the production and the success achieved.

This cast undertakes the powerful songs and complex harmonies of Man of La Mancha with conviction and admiral success under and the insightful musical guidance of Pat Wilson. A group of musicians complements the musical evening, featuring guitarist, Malcolm Calvett.

The set design, from Don Oakley, was creative and appropriate, combining a multi-level construction to create the dark depths of a prison of the Spanish Inquisition. The set and cleverly designed scenic elements guided us from scene to scene, the most enjoyable set piece being the windmill. Awkward blackouts, however, did create static points in the latter half.

Costumes, from coordinator Jill Wheatley with a group of assistants, were appropriate and fun, although a little clean at times. Norm Caddick is to be commended for the makeup used to help to develop the characters of the performers. Leigh Wheatley deserves a huge credit for managing to use a skeleton lighting rig to create adaptable lighting for each scene, illuminating all characters, set elements, and developing atmosphere. Special effects were most appropriate and a delightful surprise. I applaud the whole production team.

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