“I don’t grab pussy,” exclaims DJ (David Tennant), as Don Juan is referred to in Don Juan in Soho, a play that is very much about what the title suggests. The 2006 Donmar Warehouse production was an update of Moliere’s 1665 original Don Juan, and clearly the show has been updated again for this 2017 Wyndham’s Theatre run. But it doesn’t say much for DJ if all he can say for himself is to be compared favourably with a leading politician who is loathed by some as much as he is loved by others. An immediate follow-up comparison to the former Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu, is more typical of the hyperbole of this alpha male character. As the old adage would have it, DJ is not here for a long time but a good time. A good time means having intercourse as often as possible. Sometimes this involves some thought – there’s one scene in A&E which I won’t say too much about, except to say it had me in stitches.
Adrian Scarborough as Stan, DJ’s loyal assistant (there’s a far cruder description to look out for that DJ comes up for him in Act One), is utterly splendid and is more than a match for Tennant’s DJ. Nothing wrong with Tennant, but the character seems woefully out of place in twenty-first century Soho.
Nobody, but nobody, still actually cries ‘So-Ho!’ as a hunting cry anymore, particularly when what they are ‘hunting’ for are call girls. The transporting of much of the storyline from the 17th century to the 21st is thus bizarre in places. It’s very much the Don Juan story, but I think on balance I’d have preferred to have seen a production of the original play. The statue would have been more suitably terrifying, for instance, and with deeper meaning; here, it’s merely a vehicle for some decent staging.
Don Juan In Soho – Wyndham’s Theatre
Elsewhere, the infamous final cry of the original, “My wages! My wages!”, which survives in this production, comes across as dramaturgically inept. Stan didn’t persuade DJ to sign off on a cheque before they part company for the last time. Eh? Hasn’t Stan heard of bank transfers, PayPal, smartphone apps, and the like? Not even Marks & Spencer accepts personal cheques anymore. And if this reviewer doth protest too much, I should also point out that a fellow theatregoer didn’t like this show. I mean, she really didn’t like it. Not that she found it offensive, but merely unfunny. One does, admittedly, need to indulge in schadenfreude (which the musical Avenue Q helpfully if crudely defines as ‘happiness at the misfortune of others’) to relish a play of this nature. If that isn’t your cup of tea, well, to be blunt, please consider another show of your choice to enjoy.
Of the supporting roles, Theo Barklem-Briggs’ Pete, who suffers as DJ swoops in and claims his girlfriend Lottie (Dominique Moore) for himself, symbolised the so-called 99 per cent being trampled on by the aristocracy. Gawn Grainger as Louis is superbly convincing as DJ’s father, simultaneously a traditionalist and a realist. The supporting music fits in well with the play’s setting, and there’s a song and dance sequence which seems to be deliberately going for a ‘Springtime for Hitler’ approach in being so bad there’s a certain likeability about it.
The audience finds itself with mixed feelings towards DJ. In one scene he repeatedly attempts to goad a Vagabond (Himesh Patel) (that is, beggar) who practices religion to ‘blaspheme’; minutes later, the Vagabond having calmly but testily refused, DJ praises the beggar for his ‘integrity’. My initial disgust quickly turned to thoughtfulness. I suppose there’s something refreshing about the distinct lack of political correctness in this play. It’s bawdy, it’s lewd, and in places it’s frankly improper. Not exactly a family show, then, but nonetheless a forthright and sharp production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
David Tennant, who plays the title role in Patrick Marber’s Don Juan in Soho, is joined by Adrian Scarborough as Stan and Gawn Grainger as Louis. The production will complete its strictly limited eleven-week run on 10th June 2017.
Direction is by Patrick Marber with set and costume designs by Anna Fleischle, lighting by Mark Henderson and sound and music by Adam Cork. Final casting will be announced at a later date.
“Please don’t be charmed, he’s not a lovable rogue…” Loosely based on Molière’s tragicomedy ‘Don Juan’, this savagely funny and filthy modern update transports the action to contemporary London and follows the final adventures of its debauched protagonist – a cruel seducer who lives only for pleasure.
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