Don Juan in Soho starring David Tennant – review at Wyndham’s Theatre – ‘charmless and creepy’
To have one misappropriation of a Moliere comedy – Sean Foley’s reworking of The Miser – in the West End is misfortune. To now have it joined by a second, this time of Don Juan, doesn’t just look like carelessness, it looks like contempt.
Patrick Marber’s production – an update of his own adaptation which premiered at the Donmar Warehouse in 2006 with Rhys Ifans in the title role – is set in contemporary Soho. It’s a shallow and dispiriting portrait of a shallow and dispiriting man. And while it seeks to charm and outrage in equal measure, it ends up being charmless and creepy.
As DJ, as he’s known here, abandons his new wife after their first night of marriage to partake in an orgy with a Croatian supermodel and three others, he congratulates himself, “I don’t grab pussy”, one of a number of references to the 45th President that bring Marber’s version up-to-date.
DJ dubs himself as “the Gandhi of the gang bang, the Bishop Desmond Tutu of titillation, the Dalai Lama of desire, the Martin Luther King of copulation”. We spend the next two tedious hours watching him play out scenes of personal abasement and destructive desires.
DJ is a bona fide sex addict, who cares little about the damage he inflicts on others. The play follows a similar course to that charted in Stephen Jeffreys’s The Libertine (which was also recently revived in the West End). It’s an open invitation to audiences to be titillated and provoked by extreme sexual behaviour, but Ray Cooney sex farces are a lot more fun than this.
Anna Fleischle’s design locates it in a classical hotel, with modern flourishes provided by a restless video track and statues that come to life. But it seems superfluous to sex up a play that is already so strenuously about sex.
Marber’s production also comes complete with desperate musical interludes and a London rickshaw bike that levitates over the heads of the audience. As DJ, David Tennant strikes lots of poses, but he looks faintly embarrassed to be cast as such a stud. But he has swank and an appropriately sleazy swagger that’s fitting to the character, and the actor’s own celebrity status as a sex symbol helps to underline this. Adrian Scarborough and Gawn Grainger, on the other hand, are far more nuanced in their performances as DJ’s long-suffering manservant and the father who tries to rein him in.
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