Reviewed by Kate Gaul
The Red Nose company from Finland performs a version of “Don Quixote” by two men based on the 17th Century Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes. Timo Ruuskanen and Tuukka Vasama as clowns Mike and Zin. As Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, they attack all the injustices in the world, mixing live music, stand-up, pop references, poetry, and even burlesque moments. As the company name suggests, the two performers are red-nosed and in classic clown makeup. Ruuskanen’s Mike has the lofty ideals and crazed earnestness of Quixote, while Vasama’s Zin is an approachable everyman Sancho Panza.
This is an impressive double act. The characters arrive horse-riding on their guitars – one full sized and the other miniature (the show leans heavily into the tall/short, big/small dichotomy). The noisy arrival causes on the stage causes the copy of “Don Quixote” placed on a table on the corner of the stage to fall, and we feel the spirit of Cervantes with them on stage. Fortunately, this is a very loose adaptation of this sprawling and epic novel and more about the relationship of these two world-early performers.
They talk A LOT. I wasn’t expecting this in a clown show. The rapport the two performers have with their audience is first rate. Lots of genuine eye contact and direct address. They persuade willing audience members to throw actual tomatoes at them at one point. And act of subversion which turns out to be quite liberating for the throwers! They use all the classic clown tricks which feel spontaneous and truthful even though these tricks are way exaggerated. They use music to break up the chat and are consummate string players. The renditions from the Beatles catalogue have everyone bobbing along.
There are moments of madness, pathos, audience interaction and the two are delectably enjoyable to watch. Their pacing and chemistry are simply delightful. The production sits somewhere between children’s panto and adults only. Maybe the team adapt the content and style to suit each season. In Edinburgh there is unexpected nudity, and this version is definitely not for the kids. It certainly had the shock factor at 4.30pm in the afternoon.
This inventive and witty show won Finland’s 2023 Theatre of the Year Award, for its originality and flair. Amidst the comedy lies some provocative philosophical questions: ‘what is humanity?’, ‘what is the meaning of comedy?’ and most importantly, ‘what was Cervantes really trying to tell us all those years ago?’ Who knows! I admired the skill and experience of these two performers, I giggled at the topical jokes (eg, the price of accommodation in Edinburgh during Fringe) but the stye of show never really gelled for me. Face paint, red noses and resorting to full frontal nudity – I cannot un-see this.