Sunday afternoon saw me head off to see La Mancha recreated in Leeds with the retelling of the Don Quixote story by theatre group Burn the Curtain. This promised to be a somewhat different affair however as it was going to be done by bike and we the audience would be a moving audience also travelling by bike who would also potentially be part of the show. Sounded likes a bonkers proposition to me but well worth exploring and a great finish to the work that East Street Arts have been doing to get the conept of Leeds Bike Fest off the ground by showcasing different arts events centred around the bike.
However before I could recreate some 17th century literature I delved into the word of JG Ballard and his nightmare visions of urban Britain as I attempted to cycle over to Temple Newsom Park through the industrial outskirts of South Leeds, criss crossing huge arterial routes into the city. I was trying to follow blue bike signs but it proved to be a very haphazard arrangement and I would not have been able to find my way through the maze without stopping and using my phone. My experience of this was that while it was great that some attempt has been made at a ‘bike route’ a lot more needs to be done to make it viable and attractive.
Once at the Park though things took an interesting twist as I signed on, was asked to come up with a name for myself and then directed to a tent to make a horses head that would convert my bike into a horseycle before being greeted by the Duke and Duchess, who’s party we were due to attend, who arrived on the most spectacular tall bikes it’s possible to imagine. I knew at this point if I hadn’t already guessed it that this was going to be a few hours of spectacular surrealness and fun.
Don Quixote then arrived and along with his faithful servant Sancho Panza we mounted our steeds and headed off to the castle/ inn accompanied to the Taking Heads Road to Knowhere that was blasting out of a bike drawn speaker system that accompanied us on our travels. In the original book Don Quixote mistakes an Inn for a Castle and becomes such a nuisance in his desire to be knighted that the landlady eventually agrees to knight him. As we re-enacted this while a group of cyclists formed the cayote gang and played a game of shark (don’t ask) the love of Don Quixote’s life (not that she knows this) Dulcinea sails past on another incredible machine, a vision in white with huge streamers billowing out behind her. As she vanishes Don Quixote decides to go on an adventure to find Dulcinea and we ride off into the woods.
In the book Don Quixote’s niece is concerned about her uncles’ delusions of grandeur and tales of knights and chivalry that he has read about in books that she decides to burn all his books about such things. At this point another incredible bike rides past pillowing smoke from a wood burning stove, we give chase only to find the niece indeed burning the books! We don’t needs books though we can create our own adventures and set off again, avoiding dangers, dragons, wizards while freeing trapped prisoners (whether or not they should have been freed) before riding to the moon and back. All of this of course being told as we rode around the woods on our horseycles accompanying the incredible energy and spirit of adventure of Don Quixote.
Don Quixote finally comes to slay the giant which of course is only a windmill as his servant points out to him but ignoring him Don Quixote tilts away determined to defeat the giant until he realises the futility of his actions. Feeling downheartened a final dual awaits against the knight of mirrors but that too ends in defeat. Defeated and feeling the fool Don Quixote departs the scene only to finally be united with Dulcinea while we are left to ponder the plight of Don Quixote and his adventures.
It was a hugely enjoyable afternoon and unlike anything I’ve ever done before, the breadth and scope of trying to convert what is often regarded as the birthplace of modern literature into an inclusive audience participation piece, on bikes across several miles of park and woodland was pretty staggering. Even if you knew the rough original story, and there was no need that you had to, you had no idea what was coming next or how the adventure would unfold.
Overall it was a tremendous mix of farce and philosophy and is perhaps the closest I’ll ever get to taking part in a Monty Python sketch. Goodness only knows what the various dog walkers, family outings etc thought as 20 odd horsecyles, tall bikes, trikes and other assorted bikes and characters cavorted across the park.
What of course to make of our noble knight? was he a bumbling fool who abjectly failed in his quests? Maybe so but perhaps he has enduring lessons to teach us all, do not fear failure but fear trying, wanting to act in a noble and chivalrous fashion is perhaps not to be sniffed at, saddle your noble steed and seek adventure and let your (bike) chain set you free.