Sex farces used to be a West End staple (one its key proponents Ray Cooney is now 85, and celebrating with a new touring production of his play Out of Order, set in the Houses of Parliament). But at the other end of Whitehall, just up Charing Cross Road, we have this modern-day take about Moliere's infamous rake Don Juan -- here simply referred to as DJ -- offering a cautionary tale about the merciless progress of a sex addict, who chalks up at least three conquests a day and whose right-hand man even keeps a database running to record them all in.
So a venerable comedy, originally premiered in 1665, is shamelessly back in residence in the West End to tease, titillate and appall in equal measure. But Patrick Marber doesn't much titivate Moliere's original as take a sledgehammer to it, piling outrage upon outrage to test the limits not just of the tolerance of the wife he's just married and left in the lurch (to spend the night with a Croatian supermodel, the first of numerous betrayals that will follow), his long-suffering manservant Stan and his dignified father Gawn Grainger, but also, eventually, of the audience.
There's a sickening scene where he invites a homeless Muslim to blaspheme against Allah in exchange for his expensive watch; fortunately the man has more conscience for his own soul than the physical goods. Of course the same cannot be said for DJ, whose relentless pursuit of the sins of the flesh has already cost him his soul -- and may soon cost him his life.
I'm afraid the laughter, despite the agility of Marber's wordplay and David Tennant's delivery of it, as DJ kept sticking in my throat, though its fair to say that others around me were laughing heartily. The prolific Marber -- also currently represented in the West End by his production of Stoppard's Travesties, and whose version of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler was recently seen at the National -- directs his own play with a flashy, relentless momentum that includes vigorous dancing from a masked, under-used chorus, and features a flying London rickshaw bike.
But the play itself remains stubbornly earthbound. Fans of Tennant may enjoy the sight of him cavorting in just a well-padded posing pouch, and those wonderful actors Adrian Scarborough and Gawn Grainger muster as much dignity as they can as his manservant and father respectively, but it's a losing battle.
Don Juan in Soho Tickets are now on sale.
What the Press Said...
"Tennant brings a beguiling, fleet-footed charm to Molière’s libertine, reinvented as DJ in Patrick Marber’s subversive update."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"A red-light from me, then, for this flaccid affair although, for some, the temptation to ogle Tennant in the flesh will prove too great to resist."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"The writing never feels fierce enough...but there are too many moments when the play lacks bite and seems crude or even a bit dull."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard