The story of Don Quixote de la Mancha and his sidekick Sancho Panza – the magnum opus of the Spanish bard Miguel de Cervantes – has captured the human imagination throughout the four centuries since it was first published. Ever since the “first modern novel” was published in two parts (in 1605 and 1615), all manner of readers and artists have been captivated by this comic tale of Don Quixote, an ageing man from the lowest ranks of the Spanish nobility who decides (either through madness or feigned madness) that he is a “Knight-errant”.

Saddling up his horse, Quixote – ­attended by his farmer-turned-squire ­Sancho Panza – rides out into the ­country in search of adventures. His ­purpose, he believes, is to revive the chivalric ­tradition by doing great deeds.

Those deeds include, famously, ­Quixote “tilting at windmills”, in which the self-proclaimed knight takes on in ­battle some windmills that he mistakes for giants. This episode has been formalised in human culture in the phrase to “tilt at windmills”, meaning to attack an imaginary or misperceived enemy.

The National:

Indeed, Quixote’s very name has found its own unique place in human thought. The word “quixotic” is defined by the Collins English Dictionary as meaning “imaginative or hopeful but unrealistic”.

Such characteristics are, one might suggest, quintessentially human. That, perhaps, explains the continued appeal of this frail, but fabulously vain and ­adventurous old man.

Throughout the centuries visual artists have sought to capture the ridiculousness, hubris, pride and all-too-human ambition of Quixote. In the early-19th century the great Spanish painter Francisco de Goya drew Quixote beset by monsters of the mind.

In the late-1800s the French ­artist ­Gustave Doré illustrated an edition of Don Quixote with a series of ­images, ­including a famous picture of the ­self-titled knight trotting along on his horse beside the diminutive Sancho ­Panza, who is astride a little donkey. More recently, in the 20th-century, ­Pablo Picasso ­reasserted the importance of ­Cervantes’s story to the culture of Spain with his own distinctive drawing of ­Quixote and Panza in ­silhouette.

If the image of the intrepid pair is ­instantly recognisable, and to be found in literally thousands of works of figurative art, attempts to translate the sprawling novel into other narrative art forms (such as theatre or film) have proved far more challenging. Indeed, one might say that there is something quixotic about even trying.

Which explains, perhaps, why Terry Gilliam – the American filmmaker, ­cartoonist and former member of ­Monty Python – became so obsessed with ­Cervantes’s novel. As if to prove the near impossibility of rendering the book as a digestible cinematic narrative, Gilliam’s first attempt at filming Don Quixote (with French actor Jean Rochefort in the title role) was so beset by disasters that it had to be cancelled.

The National: A still from the Don Quixote filmA still from the Don Quixote film (Image: Unknown)

Budget cuts, contractual difficulties and ill-health within the cast brought the ­production of Gilliam’s movie to its knees. Add to that, on day one of ­shooting, an F-16 fighter plane (from the nearby Nato military base in the ­Navarre ­region of Spain) repeatedly ­flying ­overhead ­(despite filming seemingly having been given military clearance), and the director had a bona fide disaster on his hands.

In the end, the entire process ­culminated, not in Gilliam’s Quixote film, but in Lost in La Mancha, Keith ­Fulton and Louis Pepe’s documentary about the American’s ill-fated attempt to bring Cervantes’s tale to the big screen.

Needless to say, Gilliam, like ­Quixote, got back on his horse. Finally, in 2018, he released The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a film starring Jonathan Pryce as Quixote, alongside Adam Driver. Whether the final movie was worth both the wait and the many millions of pounds spent on two attempts at filming ­Cervantes classic is a moot point.

Don Quixote: Man of Clackmannanshire

Now, as evidence of the remarkable flexibility of the novel, Dundee Rep ­Theatre and Perth Theatre are ­collaborating on a new adaptation set in 21st-century ­Scotland. Written by Ben Lewis and ­directed by Lu Kemp, the hero of this ­version – which is humorously ­titled Don Quixote: Man of Clackmannanshire – is more likely to be found in Alva than ­Valencia.

Playing in Dundee (until October 15) and Perth (between October 25 and ­November 5), the piece finds 87-year-old Scottish pensioner Don (played by the excellent actor Benny Young) facing his social care needs assessment. Jolted into action by this, he takes to the highways and byways of Scotland on his mobility scooter, accompanied (on a little girl’s bicycle) by his annoyingly loquacious nephew Sandy (played by Sean Connor).

The producers promise us “a freewheeling picaresque adventure through the pedestrianised town centres, traffic islands, Wetherspoons and wind farms of contemporary Scotland.”

For his part, Lewis, as adapter, was struck by the universality and sympathy of a book that, in theory, should not be able to be readily transferred from early-17th century Spain to Scotland in the 21st century.

“What I found extraordinary about it is how human it is,” the writer comments. As the continued popularity of the story proves, the character of Don Quixote is someone that human beings throughout the centuries and across the world have been able to associate with.

More than that, Lewis observes, there is in the novel a vulgar humour that is common to all human societies. The ­writer found himself surprised by “just how scatological it is”.

READ MORE: Mark Brown: The Maggie Wall is a bold reimagination of a well-known myth

In particular, he continues, “there’s this one scene in which the two main characters just vomit over each other for about 12 hours straight.”

AS so often in the theatre, this play has been informed by work that Lewis and Kemp were doing on another ­project. Whilst conducting research for a drama about care for the elderly – which involved consulting numerous experts in the field – the writer and director stumbled across the central idea for their Don Quixote.

“One of the things that kept coming up,” Lewis tells me, “was this tension between what we want for ourselves, as freedoms, and what we want for our loved ones, which is safety.”

The restriction on freedom that is ­often implied by our efforts to ensure that our elderly loved ones are safe is a major ­factor in the social care needs ­assessment. It is also a source of dread for Lewis’s ­Scottish octogenarian, and the primary reason for the character’s decision to head out in pursuit of valorous deeds in the badlands of Alloa and Tillicoultry.

For the writer, his Don shares with ­Cervantes’s hero an “end of life ­crisis”. The titular Scotsman in Lewis’s ­adaptation wonders what will be said of him at his funeral.

“He realises there’s hardly anything to say about him, because he hasn’t really achieved very much. That’s very touching as a starting point.”

Like the original Quixote, the Scottish Don sets out on an adventure that is, the adapter says, “completely impossible and wrong-headed, but it’s an impulse that we all have”.

Indeed, that impulse is, Lewis suggests, particularly prevalent these days. “The idea of everyone feeling like they’re the main character in their own story has never been more pronounced, because of social media.”

The writer sees a juxtaposition between the increased focus on the individual that has been brought about by information technology and the geopolitical chaos of the world around us.

“The grand narratives we tell about ­ourselves as societies are pretty ­exhausted at the moment,” he suggests.

READ MORE: Rona Munro's latest James play comes at 'extraordinary time'

Faced with the sobering realities of ­human-made climate change, wars in Syria, Yemen and Ukraine, and a global migration crisis, it is, Lewis thinks, only natural that people seek refuge in their own personal lives. Fascinatingly, it is just such a process that Cervantes was identifying in Don Quixote more than 400 years ago.

If the story of oneself – in Don ­Quixote’s case a highly improbable tale of geriatric chivalry – is a refuge from an often inhospitable wider world, so, too, is nostalgia. It is easy in contemporary Scotland to look back longingly on a post-Second World War society which built the welfare state and the NHS, in which many people had skilled jobs, and in which parents could bring up their children confident that their offspring would have a better quality of life than they had.

However, says the adapter, even in Cervantes’s society – which was one of expanding empire – there was a strong sense of nostalgia.

“In Don Quixote,” Lewis says, “there’s a lot written about looking back. There is this idea that there is, in the recent past, this Golden Age that is just out of reach. There’s a sense of, ‘if we could just get back to how that was, then everything would be OK’.”

Such nostalgia for an idealised past plays a large part, the adapter contends, in Cervantes’s characterisation of Quixote as an elderly man who thinks he can inspire his society by becoming a living example of old chivalric values. Lewis’s Don, similarly, seeks personal and social redemption through the resurrection of a heroism that is rooted in the past.

However, nostalgia, as they say, isn’t what it used to be. Both ­Cervantes’s ­Quixote and Lewis’s Don are ­looking through rose-tinted spectacles. The past the men of La Mancha and ­Clackmannanshire are striving for “never really quite existed as it’s being recalled by the characters,” says the writer.

The contradiction within that kind of nostalgia is “timeless”, says Lewis. As is Sancho Panza’s questioning of Quixote’s ideas about the past.

“Once someone starts really scrutinising it,” the writer continues, there are suddenly more questions than answers. Lewis’s character of the irritating chatterbox Sandy stands in for Sancho Panza, whose purpose in Cervantes’s book is to ask all manner of awkward questions.

Panza is asking, the adapter says, such questions as: “What was this Golden Age?”; “Who was it a Golden Age for?”; “Was it a Golden Age for everyone or just for certain people?”.

Then, Lewis observes, the entire ­edifice of Quixote’s reasoning “starts to fall apart”.

It is, surely, the mark of a great ­literary classic that its four-centuries old ­contemplation of human frailties, ­vanities, fears and ambitions should translate with such humanity – and such comic potential – to the Scottish stage in 2022.

Don Quixote: Man of Clackmannanshire runs at Dundee Rep until October 15, transferring to Perth Theatre, October 25 to November 5: