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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Don Juan In Soho
Wyndham's Theatre  Spring 2017

Patrick Marber's 2006 updating from Moliere and Mozart is a portrait of a totally reprehensible human being, a moral-less compulsive seducer and abandoner of women, and all the play and production's attempts to present him as a lovable rogue fall flat. 

What keeps the experience from being merely distasteful is some wit in the writing and some sensitivity in the performances. 

Marber's DJ is a dissolute son of an earl who brags of being unable to go without at least three sexual episodes, preferably with different women, a day. 

To meet his quota he will charm, cajole, lie, pay money, risk lives and even, with one particularly determined virgin, marry (He went off on 'private walks' several times a day during the honeymoon and, novelty gone, has abandoned her as the play opens.) 

He does have a way with words – in an uncharacteristically nostalgic moment he recalls the days when he could 'be stoned, blown and back home and still have change from a tenner' – and a not particularly original but still comic scene has him chatting up one girl while being orally serviced by another. 

Chief among the production's attempts to make DJ attractive is casting David Tennant in the role. (Since the TV star will be the major attraction for many in the audience I should note that this is Tennant in his having-fun Dr Who mode, not his tortured Broadchurch persona.) 

Tennant brings all his charm and charisma to DJ, but the honest actor in him won't let him disguise the man's essential ugliness, and you will probably not be as easily seduced as the female characters onstage. 

This is particularly striking when Tennant's DJ is set alongside Adrian Scarborough's performance as the Leporello figure, DJ's pal and gofer Stan. 

Stan gets at least as many witty lines as DJ, but Scarborough invests the character not just with a moral sense, but with a humanity, a mensch-ness that makes him far more attractive and sympathetic. 

His is not just the moral voice of the play, however weak and wavering it may be, but it is Scarborough's performance you are more likely to remember than Tennant's. 

Serving as his own director, Patrick Marber tends to give most value to his words. Every speech with a hint of philosophising or moral comment is underlined by having the actors deliver them face-front, most notably a long self-serving screed by DJ against the hypocrisies of the world that not only comes out of nowhere (DJ not having been particularly a champion of sincerity up to then) but sounds like out-takes from Salinger's Catcher In The Rye, the wailing of an adolescent who has just discovered that some people are phonies. 

Playwright Marber has updated the text with references to Trump, Brexit and the like, for easy laughs, and director Marber punctuates the action with some irrelevant disco dancers and ineffective video projections, though despite this padding and a very extended interval the play runs barely over two hours. 

Come to see the TV star, be surprised that his considerable personal charm is not transferred to his character, and be appropriately impressed by the always reliable and here particularly outstanding Adrian Scarborough.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Don Juan In Soho - Wyndhams Theatre 2017  
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