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Don Jo review at Arcola Theatre, London – ‘a queer take on Mozart’s anti-hero’

Arden Fitzroy and Renee Fajardo in Don Jo at Arcola Theatre, London. Photo: Hiranya Griffith-Unny

Mozart’s seductive anti-hero Don Giovanni has invited reinterpretation by directors from many different points of view. This Grimeborn production from the Arcola Participation Queer Collective attempts to look at his story in a “queer-imagined world”.

In the mind of director Leo Doulton, this suggests a Utopian world in which the gender-fluid seducer parties through the city leaving dead bodies and broken hearts in their wake. The reality is simply confusing, in spite of energetic and committed performances by a cast of poets, actors and singers, who also helped devise the production.

Music director Nick Bonadies creates a recorded soundscape referencing Mozart but mashing him up with other composers as well as songs and speeches from the musicals. Bonadies is a versatile pianist but plays live only for a few lukewarm original songs.

There are twisted arias from Don Giovanni, sung operatically in 18th-century frocks by Donnas Anna and Elvira (Renee Fajardo and CN Lester) and shyly by Cinthia Lilen as Ottavio. Doulton’s libretto, pillaging Da Ponte, gives Leporello all the funny lines and Manon Clement, with a charming Gallic accent, makes the most impact, certainly more than the Don Jo of Arden Fitzroy.

Borje Fontalva as Zerlina gets the biggest laugh for his over-the-top gyrating and his raunchy S&M version of Batti, Batti. The chorus, in modern dress, enjoys a bit of disco dancing at the pre-wedding party, but the whole production feels more suited to a student union bar than the promised ‘cabaret’.

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Queer, devised take on Mozart’s famous seducer that's clumsily staged and needs more focus