I was immensely fortunate to be given tickets to see Don Juan in Soho as a Christmas present. Being a fan of Renaissance and Restoration drama – as well as having something of a man-crush on DT – it had the potential to be a perfect gift. So nearly five months to the day since Christmas, up I went to Wyndham’s Theatre with my partner in tow (perhaps even more of a DT fan) and waited with baited breath…
The performance from start to finish is superb: a wonderful blend of classical narrative updated for a modern audience; stylish direction and production; effective yet unobtrusive staging; thoughtful and relevant costume; and superb acting. In particular, the on-stage relationship between Don Juan (David Tennant) and his butler/valet/companion Stan (Adrian Scarborough) is utterly convincing from beginning to end, providing the perfect balance of comedy and pathos.
The stylised elements of music and dance that bookended the acts have a feel of the Almeida’s 2013 production of American Psycho: The Musical, while the delightfully gratuitous dialogue is that of a modern-day Doctor Faustus. In the adept hands of writer and director Patrick Marber – as well as his supporting team – these various elements are brought together beautifully; nothing seems unnecessary or out of place, and the audience on the night were mesmerised – and often shocked – in exactly the right places. The incorporation of some extremely culturally sensitive topics – Islam, Trump and the upcoming election to name just a few – also serves to bring the storyline into the 21st Century, and had us laughing uncontrollably one minute and uncomfortably the next.
Probably the highlight for many is Don Juan’s beautifully penned monologue – part cultural tirade, part self-justification – which has an air of spontaneity to it, with DJ railing against the virtual existence lived almost ubiquitously in the modern world, and the hideous hypocrisy that is endemic in modern society. It is perhaps the most powerful moment of the play and the closest DT comes to breaking the fourth wall, but it is also the most truthful – this from a character that prides himself of the honesty of his lies. I have no doubt that, should the script been published, it is a speech that will be learnt up and down the country.
What was most powerful for me, though, was the anti-Faustian conviction of Don Juan: no remorse, no compunctions, and arguably no morals. Having taught Marlowe’s play for two years now, I have always struggled with Faustus’ refusal to repent despite his clear desire to do so. In Don Juan, however, we have a character that faces his doom with conviction – almost welcoming it. It is a courage that is sorely lacking nowadays, even if it is channelled in the wrong direction.
Ultimately, like much great drama, we are presented with an utterly compelling, outrageously alluring and frighteningly ruthless character that simultaneously entices and repulsed us, showing us who we are not, who we could be, and making us consider who we really are beneath our own costumes.