It’s all fun and games until your brother-in-law stabs you in the dick. In Patrick Marber’s new version of this old story, DJ (David Tennant) fucks his way around London, without giving a fig for the broken hearts and STDs he leaves in his wake.
Don Juan as a play flits between sex, whimsy, sex, comedy, sex and deep meditations on the human condition. Some parts are more effective than others. It’s definitely sexy, with Tennant bringing all the swagger and thrust you would expect. The budgie-smugglers are less sexy, but each to their own.
Tennant gives DJ some humanity, nonetheless – he’s an absolute bastard, but a charming one. Although his debauchery brings down the ire of his father, the wrath of his brothers-in-law and the prayers of his wife, there are no real consequences to his actions until the very end (except a small bout of syphilis). Marber’s script removes God from the equation – this Don Juan is an atheist.
Without God, and fear of God, there is no tussle between redemption and damnation. The dramatic crux of the play is removed, and you feel its lack. It’s hugely entertaining, in parts, and Tennant is magnetic, but there’s little emotional heft. As a rich, titled, young(ish) white man with strong sexual allure, DJ has the world exactly as he wants it. With no fear of he afterlife, what impetus does he have to mend his ways in this world?
Marber’s big state-of-the-world speech that DJ uses to justify his actions – “follow me, like me, love me, but don’t know me” – and the suggestion that Juan’s exploits are all covering up the essential loneliness of being human feel well-worn. iPhones are alienating us all, bankers rob banks, we’re all shallow and insincere, etc etc. There’s even a couple of digs at Trump. At one point, DJ’s father (Gawn Grainger) says “good is good. It just is,” which might be the least convincing argument to behave yourself I have ever heard.
That said, there are some gorgeous turns of phrase – “nude as a spoon” and “he’d do it with a hole in the ozone layer” are my particular favourites – and the whole thing rollicks along. You certainly believe that anything that moves will willingly shag Tennant, although his claims to be an equal ops fucker fall down slightly since every woman on stage is thin and beautiful.
DJ’s unlucky wife, Elvira (Danielle Vitalis) has some odd speeches about her sexual awakening, but ultimately retreats to pity and prayer. She is a bit-player in DJ’s story, married only because she won’t sleep with him until they are legally wed. Her unhappy brothers take up her cause, and are ultimately DJ’s undoing.
The most interesting relationship is that between DJ and his gentleman’s gentleman, Stan (Adrian Scarborough). Tempted by wages that never materialise, Stan is by turns amused and disgusted by his capricious master, but never quite works up the courage to resign. His occasional moments of commentating are astute and witty. DJ’s endless parade of women are given charisma and character by Emma Naomi, Alice Orr-Ewing, Eleanor Wyld and especially Dominique Moore, who is a feisty and likeable Lottie.
For all that parts of the play are very funny, though, overall it doesn’t quite work. DJ is neither loveable rogue nor compelling anti-hero, he’s presented a selfish, sex-addicted man-child. For all Tennant’s charisma and charm, that is not an attractive prospect.
Don Juan in Soho is on until 10th July 2017 at Wyndham’s Theatre. Click here for more details.