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Don Juan in Soho
What will engage you is the motivation of the philanderer, the serial womaniser Don Juan. Is he merely a hedonist or as his manservant Stan (Stephen Wight) suggests, afraid of being alone? What does he actually achieve in a long line of conquests? None of the women satisfy him once he has them. So built in to his success in the chase is the disappointment of reaching his goal. He has programmed himself so that the very thing he most desires, when he attains it, will be sullied.
The play opens with one of the most searing descriptions of working class morality when Stan, left waiting around in the foyer of a West End seedy hotel for several days because his master is "banging a Croatian supermodel". Stan describes the debauchery of Don Juan. The dichotomy is, that Stan needs this job and so takes Don Juan's money while despising everything that he stands for. One of Marber's memorable phrases is when Stan describes the seducer as declaring "a jihad against the human spirit".
Elvira (Laura Pyper) is the woman who Don Juan has married after a two year chase. They have been married for just two weeks when the play opens. In the original Donna Elvira is a nun, in holy orders, and her seduction is all the more shocking because of her vocation. In Marber's adaptation, she is a dedicated foreign aid worker, she goes to all the most dangerous areas of the world, dispensing charitable relief and Don Juan follows her. We are told he ran a marathon for Oxfam and other charitable deeds in pursuit of Elvira. The casting of pretty and child-like Laura Pyper underlines the extent of Don Juan's calumny. When we meet Elvira (we first see her vengeful brother Colm, Richard Flood) she impresses us with her innocence but she talks about how Don Juan has opened her mind to physical pleasure, to the enjoyment of sex but that she now feels debauched.
The second scene is set in the hospital after a boating accident with two woman Juan is pursuing, Lottie (Seroca Davies) and Mattie nicknamed The Fox, (Jessica Brooks). Lottie performs oral sex on DJ under a blanket while he tries to seduce the unseeing Fox in a very funny scene which parallels the one in Moliere where he promises marriage to two woman at once.
Don Juan tries and fails to get a Muslim man to blaspheme and deny his God by bribing him with an expensive watch. He meets with and shocks his father (David Ryall) and the statue comes to life heralding Don Juan's death. An apparently contrite Don Juan play acts for his father's forgiveness and claims that his lies are honest lies because he knows when he is lying and why. His modern day diatribe against the cult of celebrity, the Pod cast and the Blog, parallel the religious that Moliere satirised in the original. Finally Death catches up with him.
Rhys Ifans starts the play like a version of the critic Ken Tynan, very upper class and rather bored by all the fuss. He never shows true engagement, or any extreme of emotion despite all the romantic seduction we know him capable of. Nor does he show remorse or offer an apology for his behaviour. He claims, "I am a child . . . I choose this life and I own it. . . No-one owns me." His father's assertion that his son has "ponced, preened and primped" his way through life falls on deaf ears.
Marber's has peppered his script with excellent irony and quips galore. Who could forget Lottie and Don Juan both claiming to come from huge estates? Don Juan's manorial and plush, hers project housing, but both called estates. People were asking when the play script would be published because they wanted to read and savour Marber's brilliant lines. Grandage's production is fast moving but lacks a Hellfire ending as Don Juan lies dead in the street at the hands of Elvira's brothers. The score doesn't use the Mozart Don Giovanni but is exciting for all that.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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