Soho serves once more as the backdrop for this new version of Patrick Marber’s previous ‘loose adaptation’ of Moliere’s tragicomedy Don Juan. Not much has changed since 2006’s version of Don Juan in Soho; Blackberrys have upgraded to iPhones, and smatterings of in-vogue references to Trump and vloggers elicit laughs from the audience.
If you’re expecting any profound insights into the mind and character of a vice-riddled lothario plagued by the ramifications of his selfish ways, prepare to be disappointed; the script lacks depth at times. It plays for cheaply-won laughs – the humour mostly consists of bawdy sex jokes, dry cynicism, and objectifying women as sex objects – rather than any clever wit. There are puerile elements – Soho Square’s Charles II statue ‘comes to life,’ and a homeless man is taunted in true Bullingdon Club style – though these seem fitting considering the similarly-juvenile nature of the principle character.
The focus on humour and shock is often detrimental to the continuation of the plot, so until the final stages it often feels as though the play isn’t moving anywhere. It meanders around for two hours, graciously permitting the audience to observe a character who is truly vile of nature go about his womanising ways, regardless of any consequences, whether they be injured emotions, syphilis or impending doom – lucky us!
The saving grace of the play, then, is its strong cast: David Tennant as the eponymous Don Juan (or ‘DJ’) and Adrian Scarborough as his faithful (or not-so) ‘butler/chauffeur,’ with the support of a talented ensemble, really carry the play through unstructured times and the fluffy, often over-poetic dialogue. Tennant’s characterisation of the swaggering, budgie-smuggler wearing philanderer does well to remind us of the douchebag we all know and hate, while Scarborough brings the emotion and morality to a play which otherwise would have about as much depth as a Jack Jones prank video.
There is a strange tendency towards hackneyed attempts at making the play not ‘just-another-soulless-West-End-production.’ Masks, ensemble movement sequences to Mozart-Techno mashups, and creepy but unexplained wraith-like characters dressed in white are reminiscent of last year’s Macbeth at the Young Vic, but here seem out of place and gratuitous in otherwise quite trite direction.
If you can wade through the elements quite unashamedly included just for shock, novelty, or thrown in for ‘something different,’ the play is at times quite funny. But the superficial and half-structured script leaves a lot to be carried by the cast who – admittedly – are strong. Overall, a bit hit-and-miss, and nothing particularly original or endearing to redeem it.
Don Juan in Soho is playing Wyndham’s Theatre until June 10.
Photo: Helen Maybanks