REVIEW: David Tennant Charms As DJ In Don Juan In Soho
Last night saw the offical opening night of David Tennant's new play Don Juan In Soho at Wyndhams Theatre. Read our review below:
There was a moment in a recent episode of the latest series of Broadchurch where David Tennant’s Alec Hardy, faced with the worst behaviour of men towards women, proclaimed that he felt ashamed to be male. In stark contrast, David’s latest dramatic creation DJ, the oversexed protagonist of Don Juan In Soho, positively revels in his maleness and his dominance over the opposite sex as he cuts a debauched and drug-addled swathe through the ladies of Soho with no thought of any consequences.
Patrick Marber’s play, itself a reworking of Molière’s 17th Century classic Don Juan, has been slightly updated by the writer since its debut a decade ago. Marber also directs the revival, and it retains the morality message that the original intended to convey while also poking a knowing finger at some of the more irritating predilections of the modern age. It’s clear from the start that we are not to be taken in by DJ’s allure; as DJ’s chauffeur and retainer, the ever-faithful Stan (excellently played by the hilarious Adrian Scarborough) tells us from the start, he’s not a lovable rogue. DJ is not a pleasant person. This is a man who marries an innocent girl just to have sex with her, is unfaithful to her on her wedding day and continues to be unfaithful to her from there on. And this is a man who simply does not care. He does not care that his bride is upset, he does not care that her family are offended. He does not care that he has let his father down and he does not care that he is ruining Stan’s life. He does not particularly seem to care that his imminent death has been predicted. DJ lives for the moment, the next drink, the next spliff, the next sexual conquest, and to hell with the consequences. So why is it that we, the audience, are drawn towards him, despite his vile behaviour?
The answer really lies with David Tennant’s performance. He imbues DJ with such charm and humour that only the hardest heart would find it impossible to warm to him. It also helps that David is such a clever comic actor. It’s an extremely active and agile performance; when he isn’t clambering over furniture or exhibiting his dance and martial arts moves, DJ is literally sweeping the ladies off their feet. There’s a side-splitting scene in a hospital where David demonstrates his precise timing and physical comedy to perfection. In addition, David Tennant and Adrian Scarborough are an amazing double act and their partnership gives the production a great deal of verve and momentum. The plot has at times the right ingredients for a 1970s bawdy romp but it never tips over into farce, as there is always an underlying sense of darkness to proceedings.
Don Juan In Soho is not intended to be a comfortable watch. DJ’s objectification and heartless turnover of women leaves a sour taste in the mouth of a modern audience, as does his exploitation of his elderly father, played with stately poise by Gawn Grainger. There is no room for political correctness. In one excruciating scene, for instance, DJ attempts to coerce a homeless person (Himesh Patel) into betraying his Muslim faith. As a result, the play can feel at times like the equivalent of laughing at the sort of joke that one knows should be off limits; one that lasts for two hours. Yet the play points out many of the hypocrisies of society via DJ’s monologue encompassing world leaders, nationalism and even the idiocy of social media. Also, from the very start it is understood that DJ’s behaviour cannot go unpunished. A protagonist who ignores the warnings of fellow cast members and the supernatural cannot be too surprised when his chickens come home to roost.
The play has a fine cast of supporting actors, and praise must go to Danielle Vitalis, who gives Elvira a quiet dignity among all the chaos, as well as Dominique Moore as Lottie, who plays off David with sparkling effect in the hospital scene. There is a lot packed into the two-hour run time. There are musical interludes, including a two-handed performance by David and Adrian, and a number of choreographed routines. Anna Fleischle’s set invokes a vibrant Soho in which a hunter like DJ can thrive.
Don Juan In Soho draws a fine line between titillation and morality. Yes, there are simulated sex acts and yes, David Tennant does pose in scarlet underwear, but there’s also a message about our obsession with immediate gratification and lack of consideration of the needs to others, about near-sociopathic behaviours becoming commonplace, and about celebrities setting standards of behaviour that overwrite long established social norms. Don Juan In Soho is the tale of what happens if these urges and lusts are indulged to their self-destructive end. The play has its imperfections; however the strength of the performances means that it is a fun bawdy couple of hours that should be experienced by any of David Tennant’s (adult!) fans.
Don Juan in Soho runs at Wyndham’s Theatre in London until June 10th. Tickets are available from www.donjuaninsoho.com