Calder Hudson interviews Mattia Mariotti, the director of Don Quixote, which goes up next Monday and Tuesday in Venue 1.

Summary: Don Quixote is an ingenious gentleman who travels the world bringing justice to those in need, and also to those not in need. But justice is not eager to be brought, and consequently our hero is doomed to perpetual failure in his efforts. Failing alongside him is his trusty squire, Sancho Panza, who follows after him without feeling the need to understand him.


Was there a particular reason that you wanted to direct Don Quixote? Why did you choose it over other plays? Any inspirations?

MATTIA: Mmm… I don’t know. I had planned to do an adaptation of Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita for some months and when I discarded that — I don’t remember why — I was very much undecided whether to do Don Quixote or Valle-Inclàn’s Bohemian Lights, which I think is probably the best play I have ever read. They are quite similar, Spanish in taste and mode of leading the plot, concerned with uselessness and relying on a formidable “Joey and Auguste” leading duo. I think I have had the idea of doing something with such a duo for a long time, but watching Lost in Thailand, a blockbuster Chinese cheap comedy movie, on a flight to Beijing this summer crystallized this idea. I think I preferred Don Quixote because Sancho Panza, the “Auguste” of Don Quixote, is much more genuine and has a purer soul than Don Latino, his rough equivalent in Bohemian Lights.


Have there been any obstacles you’ve had to take on, either with the production or with the script?

MATTIA: Yes, many, most of which I have forgotten because I have a bedbug’s memory. As far as I remember, the main obstacle, apart from coordinating a huge amount of creatures, is that in Venue 1 it is hard to understand things. It is not much of an issue for me personally because I’m used to not understanding, and not understanding what’s going on either, and quite fine with it, but I understand it can be an issue. I’ve asked the leading actor, Dominic Kimberlin, for help, and he’s proved to be very helpful; there are some cheap tricks and also more structured solutions. I hope it won’t be too much of an issue, but you’ll tell me.


You’ve directed two shows at St Andrews already—Caligula and The Physicists. How does Don Quixote compare, would you say? Does anything set it apart? 

MATTIA: [laughs] Good question. It’s hard, I don’t know… every play is like a child, and even if you are an Irish family and you have ten children all apparently looking alike, to you as a parent the children present uttermost [sic] differences. Anyway, yes I think this is unique; in a sense it combines both previous shows. It builds on Caligula, but brings it where it really doesn’t want to go. More specifically, the unpredictable presence of an incredible and idiosyncratic actor like Collin Looh (Sancho Panza), in his St Andrews debut, makes this unlike everything I have done so far. And also, like the plays I used to do back in Italy before coming to St Andrews, this play has a strikingly huge cast, more or less the sum of Caligula’s and The Physicists’ cast.


Any ideas for what might be coming after Don Quixote?

MATTIA: Yes, this one I know. Next year I would like to do Henry IV by Luigi Pirandello, together with my friend Alberto Micheletti, as producer. I have translated it from Italian with the marvellous George Gordon and I’d meant to do it last year already. God agreeing, next year will be the year. Whether God agrees or not is not something I can’t answer at the moment.


You recently wrote an article for The Tribe called ‘The Value of Clowning’—can we expect you to show us the value of clowning in Don Quixote? Read it here.

MATTIA: [Laughs] Yes and no. Not unlike clowning, the play surely shows what kind of lovely idiots human beings are, and you might find some formal elements which are evocative of clowning too, as well as a lot of spontaneous clowning by particularly inspired actors. However, more systematic and complete clowning is not always fully compatible with words and script, and most of all it requires the discipline of a monk, and very long preparation —both of which I lack, and which, anyway, would be hard if not impossible to nurture with the comparatively little time one can naturally devote to theatre in St Andrews.


Here’s a question for your cast and crew—how has working with Mattia been?

Umar Mukhtar (Landlord):

As someone who has worked with Mattia ever since his first directorial debut here (which was also my acting debut), I would say that it has been a surreal experience altogether. Whether it is his eccentric demeanour or his unorthodox directorial skills, he never fails to surprise audiences by going beyond the boundaries of theatre while adding an extra zest of that Mattia-magic into the plays he directs, which I find refreshing in itself.


Josephine Wolfe (Duchess):

Working with Mattia has been a lot of fun. He has a wonderful imagination —a childlike sense of wonder and open-mindedness. I love his eagerness to try new things and to draw inspiration from the whole cast. He is also very patient and kind and has such a happy and warm personality that it is an absolute joy to work with him.


Dominic Kimberlin (Don Quixote):

Ever since watching Mattia stand on an actor’s foot to make his line more emphatic, I have been a faithful disciple of the Mariotti school of theatre. Two years have passed and rehearsals have only increased in their beautiful insanity, with more strange hats than ever before. I am convinced that Mattia has discovered a conduit of powerful cosmic energy, which he uses to create evermore absurdly brilliant theatre. The extent to which he seems to embody the Universal Way, his natural ability to find a harmonious unity between apparently unrelated ideas, must be seen to be believed. Working with Mattia is, as always, an exquisite pleasure, and an opportunity I would recommend to anyone who wishes to reawaken their capacity for childlike enjoyment.


Back to you, Mattia—what’s been your favourite thing about directing so far?

MATTIA: As strange as it may sound, it’s picking up peculiar individuals and giving them roles; the bit immediately after auditions, or also during auditions, or even before then, when you think: ‘what about this as this and that as that?’ I don’t know why, but that still amuses me enormously.


Don Quixote goes up on Monday 10th March and Tuesday 11th March. 7.30 pm; Venue 1; £6

See the event here.


Calder Hudson


Photo credit: Olga Loza