When I went: 6 June 2017
Location: Wyndham’s Theatre, London
Performers: David Tennant (DJ), Adrian Scarborough (Stan), Gawn Grainger (Louis), Theo Barklem-Briggs (Pete), Mark Ebulué (Aloysius), David Jonsson (Col), Dominique Moore (Lottie), Alice Orr-Ewing (Mattie and Ruby), Himesh Patel (Vagabond), Danielle Vitalis (Elvira), Eleanor Wyld (Dalia), Mark Extance (ensemble), Adrian Richards (ensemble), William Spray (ensemble), Emma Naomi (ensemble)
Creative team: Patrick Marber (writer and director), Anna Fleischle (set and costume designer), Adam Cork (composer and sound designer), Polly Bennett (movement)
Approximate price: £95
Special points: Masked dancing figures
Best bit: Boat aftermath scene
If I could change one thing: Slightly less sadness from other characters
The legend of Don Juan (or Don Giovanni) dates back as far as the 17th century with the de Molina play, but has been reincarnated and provides the basis for tons of plays, TV shows, films and other works, including most probably the story of Casanova (the TV series of which David Tennant also starred). The idea of a man living his life purely in pursuit of free and easy sex is no longer shocking, but Patrick Marber’s version of the story manages to update it and provide some modern ideas about living your live as you choose rather than just watching others live and playing by the rules.
The use of Mozart’s striking themes from the opera Don Giovanni was a nice touch, as was the method of using dancing, masked figures in the scene changes and to hint that despite his doggedness in pursuing his goal, DJ did feel some sense of guilt or at least acknowledgment that he has hurt people on his way. The Don Giovanni references also included the use of the threatening statue figure and some of the character names, including Elvira.
Topical and fourth-wall-breaking references were sprinkled throughout this play, including a criticism of the old ‘comedia dell’arte’ form (of which this play could be said to be an example, especially given its use of the song under the stars towards the end of Act I), the dancing figures, and the overt slamming of the Conservative Party’s ‘strong and stable’ manifesto and Donald Trump as president. The rocky music in the scene transitions contrasted with the classical Mozart references and emphasised the fact that this version of the story is set in the present day, as did the use of modern props such as iPhones.
I will admit upfront that I have no problem at all with watching David Tennant as a full-on sexy figure, and that might have lent some extra enjoyment to my observation of his performance. However, even a more impartial audience member would surely agree that his natural charisma and likability enable him to pull off a character who, on paper, is not easy to root for. One of the funniest scenes was the boat aftermath scene, where DJ attempts to seduce a bride whose new husband is in a coma following an ‘accident’ he has caused, while also enjoying the oral attentions of a very recent conquest he has effectively stolen from her boyfriend right in front of him.
In this performance, and partly due to the chemistry between David Tennant and Adrian Scarborough, there was also a genuine sweetness to DJ’s relationship with his servant Stan, despite the fact that Stan tries to get away from DJ at more than one point; you get the vibe that if DJ cares about anyone, it is Stan.
DJ’s humour and upfront nature (apart from his staged self-recrimations for the benefit of his father) also won him enough audience points that in both his opening and denouement speeches, his views on himself (he is not a bad person compared to other more celebrated figures, as he doesn’t rape (or ‘pussy-grab’), and isn’t at all prejudiced in the races of the women he chases) and on life (it is better to be true to yourself than spend your time on social media chasing ‘likes’, and it is important to live your life rather than watching others live theirs and do as you are told or expected to) struck a chord. When he succumbs to the attack from Col and Aloysius rather than apologise or redeem himself, it is easy to be glad that he followed through on what he believed in.