There’s a moment at the start of Patrick Marber’s update where Don Juan’s right-hand man Stan (the superb Adrian Scarborough) confides to the audience that his master is “A slag. A dog. Satan in a Savile Row suit”.
We soon find out that it’s a fair description. Juan, known here as DJ, is a thoroughly reprehensible character who breaks every rule in the book and seduces anything with a pulse. He drifts through life on a tide of booze and in a blizzard of cocaine. Even a glimpse of his own mortality and the possibility of being cut off from his inheritance by his father Louis (Gawn Grainger) causes only a momentarily wobble before he’s back to his manipulative ways and serial philandering.
But when Stan again pleads with us “Please don’t be charmed, he’s not a lovable rogue”, it comes a little too late. Played by David Tennant, that’s exactly what he is. Well, maybe not lovable, but certainly difficult to dislike.
Adrian Scarborough as Stan and David Tennant as Don Juan (photos by Helen Maybanks)
We might feel a tinge of guilt for laughing at his antics, but laugh we do because it’s all done with a swagger and a wink that’s hard to resist. Though his goading of a homeless Muslim who he tries to persuade to insult Allah in exchange for an expensive watch draws a sharp intake of breath from the audience. This blasphemy scene was censored from Molière’s original and has been restored by Marber. Centuries later, it still has the power to make us uncomfortable.
We first meet our “hero” when he is confronted by his brother-in-law after he abandons his new wife Elvira (Danielle Vitalis) within hours of the wedding to seek pleasure elsewhere. Because as DJ freely confesses, for him the hunt is the thing, with the sex coming a close but satisfying second.
Elvira and threats from her family are soon forgotten when DJ finds himself in A&E where he hits on a distressed woman whose husband is in a coma, while at the same time receiving oral sex under a blanket from another woman. What a lad, eh?
Marber’s update was first performed at the Donmar in 2006 and has been tweaked again for this revival. He shoehorns in the inevitable Trump reference and a lament for the old Soho that resonates as Crossrail seems to destroy all in its path. And there’s a very funny dig at our obsession with social media.
Marber also directs and keeps things simple with minimal stage design and an effective and atmospheric use of a Greek chorus. But it’s the scenes between Tennant and Scarborough that work the best — their effortless timing is an absolute joy.
DJ loses us a bit towards the end when he tries to justify his behaviour as being honest; we’re the hypocrites apparently. It’s a rant that goes on a little too long and begins to border on the pretentious, but by then this absolute dog has seduced each and everyone of us into forgiving him practically anything.
Don Juan in Soho is at Wyndhams Theatre until 10 June