Desire and morality are the themes explored by Patrick Marber in the revival of his own 2006 play Don Juan in Soho (Wyndhams Theatre) which loosely transposes Moliere’s original 17th century comedy to contemporary London. Here we witness the final days of the serial debaucher and find him to be not a charming rogue but a heartless seducer.
Don Juan is seen here as an idle aristocrat, cutting a swath through modern Soho with its swanky new hotel and festering old dip joints, crackheads in alleys and cokeheads in clubs, where destitute, the delirious the broken and the brazen, the media movers and merciless whores are all packed into a seething square mile. He ditches Elvira, a foreign aid worker (not a convent girl as in the original), whom he had married not for love, but to take her virginity. Having done that though, he becomes bored: it’s time to seek revenge and Juan’s father Don Louis shows up, hoping to reform his son before it’s too late.
Hypocrisy is Marber’s principal target but he also takes aim at the vacuous narcissism of celebrity culture in a gossip-hungry world. There is vigorous dancing from a masked, under-used chorus, not to mention a flying London rickshaw bikes. But the play remains stubbornly earthbound. It is a flaccid affair that lacks both bite and the true wit and seems crude and even a bit dull. There are the inevitable quips about Donald Trump, greedy bankers and the hollow patriotism of 2017 politics. But the writing never feels fierce enough and there is a particularly mirthless scene when Don Juan invites a homeless Muslim to blaspheme against Allah in exchange for his expensive watch.
Anna Fleischle’s design swiftly switches between Soho’s squares and sanctuaries while evoking the seediness of the area. The big draw of this production is undoubtedly David Tennant, who brings a charismatic blend of swagger and agility, leaping around the stage like a tipsy gazelle, as the odious DJ, unconcerned about the wreckage he leaves in his wake as he pursues his desires. Indeed he is aptly described by his sidekick Stan as “Satan in a suit from Savile Row”. Able support is provided by Adrian Scarborough as his appalled manservant Stan and Gawn Grainger as his dignified father Louis.
But while this version offers a far more radical rewrite it lacks the subversiveness of Moliere’s original.
Playing at the Wyndhams Theatre until 10 June 2017Last modified: April 4, 2017