Review: DON JUAN IN SOHO, Wyndham's Theatre

By: Mar. 30, 2017
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The bad boy is back. Marber's Molière update, which first appeared at the Donmar Warehouse in 2006, has been revived by the playwright for a West End run - David Tennant succeeding Rhys Ifans as the titular seducer.

"Please don't be charmed. He isn't a loveable rogue," warns manservant Stan, yet this tiggerish incarnation is hard to resist. DJ is a rampant rake, averaging three women a day for the past half-century and cheating on his new wife, Elvira, on their wedding day, but Tennant is almost too much fun in the role, from the dandy swagger and louche drawl to the gleeful manipulations and stoned, trippy crooning.

Despite the protestations of seediness, he's a relatively refined predator in a sleek world - perhaps more fitting for today's tourist-friendly Soho (evoked by a flying rickshaw) rather than its past incarnation, but making his rebel cry ring a tad hollow.

As a morality play, it faces similar problems to Jamie Lloyd's recent contemporary take on Faustus: how to replace the awe-inspiring Christian framework, with its divine judgement and waiting hellfire, in order to give sufficient weight to DJ's fate. An animated statue warning of impending doom is an effective trick, but the play's driving psychology is muddied.

Marber does supply an anarchic, witty text ("He'd do it with anything - a hole in the ozone layer," sighs Stan; "I'm the Gandhi of the gang bang" boasts DJ). Class stereotyping and winking lads' mag misogyny is mainly presented rather than interrogated, with the most provocative set-piece - DJ seducing a bride he may have just widowed while being pleasured by another woman - leaning towards X-rated farce, as Tennant modulates his yelps and groans.

Danielle Vitalis's Elvira, calmly and directly articulating the effects of his breach of trust, is a strong counterargument to DJ's hoary claim of honesty in a hypocritical, narcissistic world. But his most significant relationships are male: his aristocratic father, played with blustery righteousness by Gawn Grainger, and long-suffering dogsbody Stan.

As the junior partner in this co-dependent bromance, Adrian Scarborough provides wry commentary, but also gives Stan real conflict. He's simultaneously covetous and derisive, loyal and untrustworthy, pleading for respect (and remuneration) while almost revelling in his degradation. Most importantly, he helps shape our queasy collusion in DJ's antics.

Yet the worst of that is reported; what's on show is effortful but ultimately rather clinical hedonism, with a carefully curated Mozart-meets-clubbing soundtrack and an orgy resembling a fashion shoot backdropped by slick projections. The root cause is rather pat: DJ lost his mother when he was young, and now fears abandonment. Though he scorns Trump (one of several Marber updates), there's similar emotional arrested development in this carnal Peter Pan.

In fact, the most subversive behaviour is religious rather than sexual, as DJ offers up an expensive watch in return for a Muslim beggar blaspheming - Himesh Patel is instrumental in making this a genuinely charged moment. Otherwise, this is a vigorous romp that titillates but never quite delivers.

Don Juan in Soho at Wyndham's Theatre until 10 June

Photo credit: Helen Maybanks