Friday, 21 April 2017

Don Juan in Soho

Former Doctor David Tennant gives his all in Patrick Marber’s staggeringly filthy revival

Written by Ian Shuttleworth

David Tennant has been a hot name ever since Doctor Who, but his choice of work since then has been kind of ambivalent. On stage, he’s usually (though not always) continued to trade on his twinkle, even to an extent when he played Hamlet; on screen, it’s often seemed as if he were deliberately trying to get away from the doctor in series like Broadchurch and his downright evil turn in the superhero show Jessica Jones. Now he gets to do both at once in Don Juan in Soho. Patrick Marber’s rewrite of the ianlegendary, unrepentant rake (itself partly rewritten since its premiere barely more than a decade ago) allows Tennant to be at his most playful whilst also portraying an utter b*****d.

Like Molière’s, Mozart’s and every other person’s version of the character, this no-longer-all- that-young aristo simply cannot keep it in his trousers – nor does Marber’s writing leave you in any doubt what ‘it’ is. Let’s be honest, this is a staggeringly filthy play: by my count, the Don gets through eight women in less than two hours of playing time. At one point, he is ‘comforting’ (ie, hitting on) a bride whose husband has just been knocked into a coma (by the Don) whilst another woman ministers to him under a blanket… let’s just say he doesn’t hold with the advice, ‘Save it fellator.’

The mature Marber knows how to sustain his writing, and also the world of the play seems closer to ours in 2017 than it was even in 2006. When the Don gets his big speech, which implicitly justifies personal amorality by pointing out how corrupt and vapid the whole world is and arguing that at least he’s honest and consistent in his lecherous selfishness, we may not agree with his conclusions but we can’t dispute the state of everything around him. Marber is now also a fine director, handling his own script with skill and precision, blending classical images with contemporary and soundtrack snatches of Mozart with Roxy Music and Talking Heads.

Some folk think this is a bad play, not because the Don is bad but because so many of the jokes are. I think Marber’s point is that they’re bad because that’s what this bad person likes – and what he brings out in others, such as his downtrodden servant Stan. Stan, morally agonised but temperamentally weak, is the only other substantial role in the play, and Adrian Scarborough (who deserves to be far better known) both plays off Tennant and creates his own character beautifully. It’s not the deepest Don Juan you’ll ever see, but it’s probably the most candid.

Until 10 June at Wyndham’s Theatre, Charing Cross Road, London WC2: 0844-482 5120, 

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