Don Juan In Soho – December 2006

Experience: 10/10

By Patrick Marber, based on Moliere

Directed by Michael Grandage

Venue: Donmar Warehouse

Date: Thursday 28th December 2006

This was a cracking good reworking of the Don Juan story, set in contemporary London. Don Juan (DJ) is the son of an Earl, spending his life screwing, snorting and generally having a good time. His personal assistant, Stan, disapproves of this lifestyle, but is unable to leave him to his sins. Eventually, it all goes horribly wrong, and the world becomes a quieter, if not necessarily a better, place.

First off, I have to say that I am not used to being asked directly by a character in a play if I am “fuckable”. That is my only excuse for just shrugging helplessly (of course I’m fuckable!) and grinning a lot. But that’s what you risk being asked at this sort of play in a studio space when you’re only inches away from the action. Be warned. This happened early on, triggered by a discussion on whether or not Stan should enter DJ’s latest conquest on his database. DJ’s point of view was that it’s pointless to classify people, although he did come up with the “fuckable/non-fuckable” categories for good measure. Stan is apparently non-fuckable.

The story was pretty much as usual, but with very modern twists. DJ has been shagging a Croatian model for the weekend, much to Stan’s surprise – DJ doesn’t usually go for Croatians. It’s also a surprise to DJ’s new wife, Elvira, who sends out her brothers to find her husband when he disappears shortly after their return from honeymoon “to buy a packet of fags.” She’s a real goody-two-shoes. DJ had to pursue her through all sorts of right-on places – refugee camps, protest sites, etc. Naturally she thinks he loved her, while he just regards her as a challenge. Unfortunately, he’s awakened her sexually, and she’s not prepared to give up on him just yet.

This all takes place in the hotel lobby, where Stan was waiting for his boss to appear. After a trip to the loo, DJ spots his next mark – the fiancée of a man he’s just met in the gents. The man is ecstatically happy that he’s about to be married, and he’s having a party on a riverboat that evening, so DJ decides to crash the party, literally, as it happens. He drives his speedboat straight at the party boat, causing all sorts of mayhem, and the next scene is set in the hospital waiting area, where Stan and Pete – an innocent bystander who pulled DJ and Stan out of the water – are shivering in their blankets. DJ’s being seen by the doctor – Earls get treated first in the NHS.

Pete’s girlfriend turns up with some dry clothes. It’s a lovely turn by Seroca Davis – all bitching and complaining and wanting reward money for Pete’s good deed, until DJ himself turns up and seduces her so rampantly that she ends up giving him a blow job under cover of a blanket while DJ attempts to chat up the posh bird he was after in the first place! The posh bird actually turns him down, although he is hampered by the woman attached to his appendage, and the need to moan occasionally. Once done, he’s off.

Next we see him in the park. There’s a statue there, as one might expect, and thanks to all the street performers there are nowadays, they didn’t have to resort to trickery to get the statue to move. Tim Eagle took the part here, and I really didn’t see him move before his invitation from DJ. (Maybe they could get a female living statue to do Hermione some time?) Before this, DJ tempts a devout man to deny his God by offering him his expensive watch as a gift. The man is seriously poor, but still he holds firm, and so DJ rewards him with the watch anyway. To bring it up-to-date, the man is a Muslim.

This is the point where we see the best side of DJ. He spots a man being attacked, and goes to help him. The man turns out to be none other than one of his brothers-in-law, Colm, while the other brother, vicious Aloysius, isn’t far behind. Given that DJ has saved him from a bad beating or even death, there’s a stand-off for the time being. Then comes the rash invitation to the statue, which leads to the usual warning about mending his behaviour.

Following the statue’s warning, DJ returns to his flat? house? and proceeds to entertain two lovely ladies of the professional persuasion. His father arrives, having driven all night, to tell him to get back with his wife, and turns out to be quite a sweetie. Bit traditional, of course, but that’s what parents are for. The wife also turns up, to get her clothes, but ends up leaving in disgust, as she realises he’s got the two prostitutes in the house. Once she’s left, the two girls, sent to wait for DJ in the bedroom, also run out of the house, screaming – they’ve seen the statue and they don’t need telling it’s a bad sign – smart girls. DJ may be rattled, but he’s reluctant to give in.

After a long sleep, he meets Stan and his father at the father’s club, and makes a good stab at playing the penitent. A very good stab. His father goes off, much relieved, leaving DJ to inform Stan, and us, that it was all a performance, and that he intends to go on as before. He sets off for Soho (he’s told us earlier that “soho” was a hunting cry, and that the area was originally used for hunting) but the rickshaw he gets on is being driven by the statue, and it all goes a bit surreal. Eventually he’s left in a dark, empty place, with no one for company but the two brothers-in-law who are intent on his murder. They stab him, and it’s all over, bar Stan finding the body.

This was a great version of the story. It not only covered the usual plot well, the translation into the modern idiom and contemporary setting was excellent. Rhys Ifans was superb as DJ, totally suave and louche, with no concerns about his behaviour, apart from a bit of fear when the statue came to life. All the performances were excellent, and it’s not surprising the run was almost sold out. A great way to end the year’s playgoing.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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