Born in 1964, Patrick Marber is a man of many hats. The talented Englishman is especially known for his work as a comedian, playwright, director, actor, screenwriter, and puppeteer.
Lately, Marber has been one very busy individual on London’s West End.
Firstly, he recently helmed a production of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties, which opened late last year at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftsbury Avenue. It should be noted that in the countdown to this month’s Olivier awards, the acclaimed show has been nominated both for best revival, as well as Tom Hollander’s star turn as leading actor.
Secondly, Marber, directs his own creation, Don Juan In Soho.
This new reworking is half – way through a strictly – limited ten week run at Wyndham’s Theatre on Charing Cross Road. Since premiering more than a decade ago in 2006 at the Donmar Warehouse, in that instance, the title role was played by Rhys Ifans.
Taking the classic tale of lust and debauchery and giving it a modern twist, Marber relocates the story to swinging London. His protagonist, here named DJ, appears to have only one goal in life. That is, to spend his days and nights bedding as many women (and men) as possible.
Along the way he seduces Elvira (played by Danielle Vitalis), making it his single mission to win over and claim the young woman’s innocence. Don Juan In SoHo opens the day after the pair get back from their honeymoon. Having corrupted his wife each and every way, DJ no longer has any use for her. In fact, he quickly abandons his new bride, and is already on to the next conquest.
His actions however, come with serious consequences. Her brothers are furious. Witnessing first hand how DJ has destroyed their beloved sister’s spirit, the pair immediately vow revenge. Can our anti – hero undo his amoral past, and seek redemption before it is too late?
In theory, the idea of a man suffering and renouncing his sins, is as age – old as it is gripping. Recent variations on the theme have been explored in such films as About Last Night, American Psycho, Eyes Wide Shut, Less Than Zero, Love And Human Remains, Men’s Group, Praise, and Shame.
Taking a more free – form approach, Don Juan In SoHo has also been updated with contemporary audiences in mind. More than living up to its controversial hype, simulated onstage sex and copious drug – use, are shown in endless supply.
This production also contains strong allusions to Moliere, as well as Mozart (who based his opera, Don Giovanni, on Don Juan). The slick staging highlights these references with a classically – inspired set (by Anna Fleischle), made up to look like a stone palace interior.
The fast – paced script has more than its share of zingers.
Big laughs come thick and fast, and there are several knowing references to Donald Trump thrown in for good measure. On the night I attended, these points in particular, scored several huge rounds of applause, and cheers of approval from the capacity audience.
Doctor’s Who’s David Tennant has been cast as the titular character, and, given his celebrity status as a sex symbol, this should be the perfect vehicle for the actor.
Having said this, Don Juan In SoHo, is not without its detractors.
Both this show and Tennant’s interpretation, have vehemently divided London’s critics. Lloyd Evans from The Spectator called Tennant ‘magical’, while Mark Shenton (from The Stage), labelled Tennant’s interpretation, ‘charmless and creepy’. Shenton went on the write that he felt like asking Don Juan to get help for his sex addiction.
As for this reviewer, I really wanted to like this play, and it should have been right in my wheelhouse.
It appears that a lot of money has been thrown at this production as well.
Polly Bennett provides several extended dance sequences, with costumes also created by Fleischle. While elegant, neither add anything to the narrative other than allowing the cast to shimmy in their underwear. Adam Cork was responsible for sound and composition, Dick Straker showcased some solid video back projection, and Mark Henderson did the understated lighting design.
Later, DJ tales a rickshaw ride above the audience (complete with flashing strobe lights and smoke), which left me wondering if I was seeing an x – rated take on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
The biggest problem I have is with Tennant’s foppish clown.
If anything, DJ and his long – suffering assistant, Stan (played by the remarkable Adrian Scarborough), reminded me of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s bizarre antics from their motion picture classic, Bedazzled.
Tennant simply isn’t sexy here, and I had tremendous trouble believing how anyone would fall so easily under his dismissive character’s spell. Still, maybe that’s the point. That Don Juan In SoHo for the most part is played for laughs, perhaps the joke is actually on us.