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FringeReview UK 2017

Don Juan in Soho

Playful Productions in Association with Sonia Freidman Productions

Genre: Classical and Shakespeare, Comedic, Drama, Mainstream Theatre, Theatre

Venue: Wyndham's Theatre, London


Low Down

Starring David Tennant, Patrick Marber’s 2006 Donmar Don Juan in Soho transfers its gleaming sleaze to a stage with more depth at the Wyndham’s in Anna Fleischle’s classic-noir stiff columns each side blasted with Mark Henderson’s lighting and (as before) a dancing troupe to open and close. Adam Cork again rebottles Mozart’s Don Giovanni to funk. Till June 10th.


Don David Tennant’s priapic thrusts might rise above the title but of course he’s in the classic armour (aka condoms) of two guvnors, Moliere and updater Patrick Marber; it’s exhilarating.


Marber’s surging omnipresence – the newly-reworked Travesties just down the road – extends to shaping and directing. Older adaptations vie with new ones. The 2006 Donmar Don Juan in Soho transfers its gleaming sleaze to a stage with more depth at the Wyndham’s in Anna Fleischle’s classic-noir stiff columns each side blasted with Mark Henderson’s lighting and (as before) a dancing troupe to open and close – in white, a bit like Pan’s Nuns. Adam Cork again rebottles Mozart’s Don Giovanni to funk. Charles II’s statue glowers upstage centre. Has his stony avatar by any chance anything in common with our anti-hero?


There’s still an echt-Donmar intimacy about much of it though. Tennant as simply DJ draws magnetically the way the Don did, Marber careful to register female as well as the male sexuality Moliere’s 1665 original scabrously wrought. Indeed, Marber’s restored a scene cut after the first night, where Moliere outrageously has his Don attempt to make a beggar blaspheme. Transposing this to Islam edges back a danger Christianity held in 1665.


Adrian Scarborough’s marvellous as the true sick-hearted slave Stan whose family’s ministered to DJ’s earldom for centuries. We get his sang-froid brush-off to Col, whose sister Elvira’s been married to DJ a fortnight, only to find DJ reportedly with a Croatian supermodel. Stan gives the lie to Col’s shock with: ‘I know, he usually prefers a bit of Bosnian’, or ‘full Brazilian.. glistening’ till Col shuts him up. David Jonsson nails the ungrateful role of a wronged man outclassed by his wrongdoer.


More importantly Scarborough’s real message skips in almost unheeded in alliteration: ‘Oh the modern monster conceals himself. Don’t expect a fiend to be fanged. .. a dictator with blood on his hands? First the manicure then the massacre.’ Later he confides ‘He’d do it with anything – a hole in the ozone layer.’ Still, Elvira’s family’s got Mark Ebulué’s muscular Vicious Aloyisius with vengeance sworn, a class brawl burlesquing itself. There’s some surprises for those who know Don Giovanni.


Tennant’s entrance is thus classically prepared and he makes the most of it, flicking eyes like a lizard, alert in his exhaustion as a mainliner of Red Bull. Already hollow-cheeked-haunted, he sports designer stubble, loafing wearily with whisky Stan just pretended was his chaser, demanding it be brought closer to him, parrying ‘darling little munchkin’ Stan’s constant request for any salary amounting to thousands. It’s twenty thousand numbers plus details Stan has digitally stored before hitting on a passing waitress who fails to stop him smoking.


Sex addition has claimed clinical fees from Russell Brand to Ali McGraw, but this isn’t it. What distinguishes DJ is his ‘pirate’ status, a cruel challenge in seduction, even mentally of Stan’s evaporating loyalty: he needs him, it isn’t as Stan mistakes later, love. After all, DJ uses the C-word of himself making Stan the rhyming Runt. Tennant’s DJ never flags: he radiates a paradox: hedonistic angst, Rochester’s Debt to Pleasure, but something cheerfully malign beyond even that.


It’s good Marber allows female sexuality its own agency. The Don Juan myth too often celebrates a male gaze not both sexes autonomy. Danielle Vitalis’ Elvira winningly thanks DJ for opening her virginity to pleasure, his tender debaucheries, but can’t touch him now.


Marber treats us to scenes close to Moliere he embellishes, a party where DJ and Stan join a bridal party, crash the boat and DJ hits on imminently-bereaved bride Mattie (vulnerable Alice Orr-Ewing) in an A&E waiting room whilst Dominique Moore’s sparky Lottie fellates him from under a blanket on a promise of being made a countess. ‘Very large estate’ Stan truthfully assures her. ‘Yeah me too.’ On the make herself, she too joins who and cry as DJ’s identity slithers off.


We get the Act where Rizzla-lender Himesh Patel won’t blaspheme, inadvertent saving of Col’s life and that invite to Charles II, followed by Gawn Granger’s crashing on an early morning riser of four prostitutes in DJ’s flat. DJ has a father, pleading reform, Granger going for a basso avuncularity rarely seen to this extent. After an unexpected guest panics the professionals, Granger dominates a touching club reconcilement, riffing off Scarborough’s hapless servility. Delacrioix’s Death of Saradanapalus looms huge in Dick Straker’s video. A trope on self-consuming sexual capitalism Stan’s already alluded to this picture, narrating the way the falling tyrant had his harem killed, pyring himself with them. Scarborough’s high-point is Stan, convinced DJ’s turned, duetting with him in a kind of Pearl Fishers Duet for dupes.


Because as ever DJ himself is duped by perfidity more than cupidity; even blasphemy’s not everything. It’s not the Statue in a Covent Garden rickshaw either. But before you find out how Marber deals with DJ we’re treated to a skew monologue allowing DJ to skewer society (updated from 2006) culminating in the world’s most powerful man ‘a fake tan.. an orang-utan!’ It’s an exhilarating speed-read, scooping a stance from Byron’s Don Juan (far kinder lover, more ferocious critic doomed to be saved) and Byron’s letters, through Mozart’s and da Ponte’s rapacious Don: but a trumpery self-description too? DJ has too much ‘horn’ not to seem authentic, but ‘‘uberly’ human?’


One factor partly missing is one Marber essays. What women and men ‘in a blue moon’ want from DJ and his real-life apprentices with a shadow of his dark gifts. One the night I saw it half the audience were young women laughing in groups, cradling wine, half of whom again crowded the Stage Door afterwards. It’s all sexy fun, contained on a one-night-stage. We all make our own monsters too, hurt by the damage we look for. Perhaps that’s where compulsive sex pushes pleasure through its pain barrier, seeking oblivion. It’s one play you must see, so transcendent in its theme it asks you the same questions.