Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Theatre Review : Don Juan in Soho by Patrick Marber after Moliere - Donmar Warehouse (dir Michael Grandage 18/12/06)

Most people are aware of the myth of Don Juan, either from Moliere's play or from Mozart's Don Giovanni. Therefore, when updating a text the familiarity of the audience can be either a barrier to innovation or a safety-net, which allows scope for knowing puns and references. Patrick Marber uses this safety-net to the full in this sparkling new version, updated to contemporary Soho, which is suffused with contemporary references whilst staying faithful - well, more faithful than the hero - to Moliere's original.

Moliere's Sganarelle has become Stan, who, as the play commences, is waiting for his master to finish with a Croatian Supermodel. When Rhys Ifans as DJ finally does emerge, his reputation nicely burnished by Stan, his presence rushes through the theatre in a magnificent torrent of words. If your main character needs to have seduced three women a day for the last ten years, he needs to be credible. Rhys Ifans is that man - "the Kofi Annan of Copulation".

Unfortunately, DJ has needed to marry Elvira, a nice Irish Catholic girl, in order to bed her. As modern symbols of purity go, an Irish UN aid worker in Darfur is pretty hard to beat. Now that he has had his way, and has cast her off as soon as the honeymoon was over, he has her brothers to look out for - including Vicious Aloysius who is not known for his tolerance.

It is difficult to summarise the fast-flowing stream of drug- and testosterone fuelled self indulgence, except to say that DJ's stamina is impressive, but not nearly as impressive as his attempt to seduce some posh-totty whilst simultaneously being fellated by a girl he has met ten minutes earlier. Extremely funny.

Inevitably, this being based on a 17th Century work, morality will assert itself in the end. At this point, inevitably, the pace of the play slackens and loses some of its energy. I won't betray the ending, which is marvellous and features a coup de theatre which those familiar with the story may possibly guess at the start, but is impressively carried out nonetheless.

Whilst all the cast is good, especially Stephen Wight as Stan, it is Rhys Ifans' show. His performance is a Tour de Force - as it was when I last saw him at the Donmar in Accidental Death of an Anarchist - and I would rate him as the most unmissable stage presence we have today, Dame Judy and Simon Russell Beale notwithstanding.

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