If Don Juan doesn’t know when to stop, I don’t know where to begin in describing Patrick Marber’s play and this fantastic, entertaining and unflagging production, which he directs. It opens with a blast of Mozart’s Don Giovanni – the music reminding us that hell is greedy, ready to swallow rascals alive. The stage in Don Juan in Soho is filled with dancers in misleadingly innocuous white, and right from the start there is a buzz, a sense that we are in safely unsafe hands.
Roll over Mozart – rock is taking over. This is contemporary Soho (classily designed by Anna Fleischle, dominated by Soho Square’s statue of Charles II). By the time we meet David Tennant’s Don Juan (now known as DJ), looking cadaverous, languid and unshaven – a picture of dissolution in his designer suit – we have already learned from his disloyal servant Stan (of whom more in a moment) that his master would “do it with anything… even a hole in the ozone layer”.
Watch a trailer for Don Juan in Soho
There is enormous pleasure to be had in the smallest details of Tennant’s performance. When he subsides into a hotel armchair, he indicates that he is too knackered to reach the drink balanced on the chair’s arm and comfortably close to him. Stan has to pick the glass up for him. He reads the name tag of a passing hotel operative – “Imogen” – in a lubricious, patronising tone, a man wondering what is next on the philanderer’s menu. At other moments he moves like a wader – an unreliable egret.
Tennant brings out the ambiguity: he is amoral, indefensible and outrageously sexist yet a shrewd critic of society
Tennant’s relish of the part is contagious, and DJ’s self-approval goes into overdrive. He lists his attributes like Cole Porter gone to the bad (“You’re the bottom” might sum him up). Yet Tennant brings out the ambiguity of the character too. He is amoral, indefensible and outrageously sexist yet a shrewd critic of society. Listening to his final monologue (Marber has cannily updated his original 2006 version of the play), the right words seem to be issuing from the wrong mouth as he rails against modern hypocrisy. His speech is in the spirit of Byron’s Don Juan, who declared: “Fools are my theme, let satire be my song.”
Adrian Scarborough, always brilliant, excels himself here as Stan. A lugubrious Yorkshireman, he is subject to strange outbursts of tenderness and gaiety and is a wearer of ordinary (M&S?) boxer shorts – in contrast to his master’s tight lingerie. The greatest comedy is in watching Don Juan turn carelessly amorous towards Stan (for want of superior meat), and the point at which they croon into a microphone is a high point.
Marber’s play is inspired by Molière’s 1665 comedy, complete with wronged wife. Elvira is pleadingly played by Danielle Vitalis but, in this play, goodness is a doomed wallflower. Elvira’s brother, vicious Aloysius (splendid Mark Ebulué), is comically muscled competition for the spindly Don. Louis, Don’s disapproving father, looks as if he has walked out of a more conventional play (amusingly dyspeptic Gawn Grainger). Don Juan describes himself as “uberly human”. But is he? Join him for an unforgettable night on the town and judge for yourselves.