Review - Don Juan In Soho (Wyndham's Theatre)

The legendary figure of Don Juan has been moulded and remoulded a thousand times in order to fit a multitude of different ideas. Patrick Marber's take on the seductive lothario sees DJ, a middle aged gent with zero regard for the men and women around him, attempt to elude the brothers of a woman he pursued, married and then promptly abandoned, as they try to persuade him to abandon his womanizing ways. The events of the play are overseen by Stan, DJ's hapless chauffeur and servant, who only sticks to his job because he is owed tens of thousands of pounds in unpaid wages. 

David Tennant in Don Juan In Soho
Photo credit - Helen Maybanks
Marber's adaptation plants DJ as the villain of the piece, objectifying women (and, on some occasions, men), emotionally manipulating his servant, and mercilessly tricking and teasing whomever he pleases. He's a terrible example of a human being, and yet alluring and almost impossible to hate, despite Stan's frequent pleas that the audience does not succumb to his charms. 

As the eponymous philanderer, David Tennant is very much the star attraction. Charming and charismatic, Tennant makes even the most audacious actions seems less affronting. Admittedly he seems to lack the truly mean streak which the script alludes to, but he makes for a beguiling villain nevertheless, as he casts an alluring spell over everyone he meets, and even has the audience wrapped around his finger by the end of the play. Sharing much of his stage time with Adrian Scarborough's Stan, the pair make an interesting double act, with Scarborough acting as a mouthpiece for the audience by commenting and drawing attention to DJ's never ending barrage of misgivings. 

The production design is slick enough, but for a play set in seedy Soho, is all seems a bit clean and safe, with only a little glimpse into the bawdy neon lights and inescapable pulsations of Soho nightlife granted towards the end. Additionally Don Juan In Soho seems to be lacking in several other areas. The production features multiple dance numbers which feel underpowered and out of place, some of the jokes are rather tasteless, and the final scene seems to come from an entirely different and much more otherworldly play. 

The somewhat juvenile jokes also grate after a while, and a scene in which DJ attempts to bribe a homeless man into blaspheming against Allah feels decidedly misjudged, mean spirited and just plain uncomfortable. And of course, the sleazy way in which DJ regards every woman he meets is hard to defend. Of course, he is the villain of the play and so it is understandable that his actions may come across as inappropriate, but Marber's script tries so hard to endear the audience to him, even giving him a redemptive monologue towards the end, in which he bemoans the new generation's self centered and social media obsessed lifestyles, despite his criticisms seeming tired and overdone.

A bizarre and bawdy dark comedy saved by the winning performances of Tennant and Scarborough, Marber's Don Juan In Soho lacks a certain darkness and subtlety, but is a fairly entertaining night in spite of its pitfalls, as long as audience members aren't too easily flustered. 

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