Don Juan is a character everyone is familiar with. The serial seducer smoothly making his way through life bouncing from mattress to mattress. Driven by the thrill of the chase, Don Juan’s primary objective is to acquire submission from his chosen quarry (even if he has to go as far as marrying them to get them to acquiesce.)
Patrick Marber’s revival production Don Juan in Soho is based on a 17th century Moliere comedy which itself is derived from a commedia dell’arte play. In commedia dell’arte, characters are archetypes, driven by a singular motive – such as money, food or lust. Marber’s Don Juan is indifferent to the chaos that follows in the wake of his conquests, always searching for his next conquest, the more challenging the better.
David Tennant takes on the titular character in this production portraying Don Juan as heir to an Earldom, the typical playboy aristocrat partying his way through his inheritance. While his moral behaviour is abhorrent, Tennant gives the character charm and appeal, seducing the audience. He becomes a loveable rogue rather than detestable. In spite of his indifference towards the women in his life, he readily jumps to the aid of a stranger being mugged and, at times, we see flashes of his humanity shine through. His insecurities of sleeping alone, his reluctance to let his faithful retainer resign, these events show the crutches he needs to support his extravagant lifestyle showing he needs other people (although he will never openly admit it.)
Adrian Scarborough is the perfect foil to Tennant’s straight man. As Stan, Don Juan’s chauffeur and valet, he is permanently downtrodden, undervalued and ignored which Scarborough exploits for every comedic opportunity. He is the accomplice to Don Juan’s activities, basking in the seeming reflected success of his master’s efforts. Scarborough’s character is the one the audience sympathise with and perhaps even empathise. He is the ‘less attractive’, less successful of the double act. His performance is tremendous, portraying a character stuck between what is morally right and his close bond with the incorrigible Don Juan.
The show is fresh and contemporary, having been updated since its premiere a decade ago. There is the odd reference to contemporary events and politics smattered throughout the play but, mercifully, they are subtle and sparse which adds to their effect. Tennant’s rousing speech in the latter half of act II is a direct debunking of modern society. From the obsession with social media and technology through to the lack of privacy we afford ourselves, the speech is a reminder that there is a life beyond social media profiles and that human interaction cannot be replaced. We are drowning in a world where definitions are more frequently blurred – between our public and private lives, between expert information and opinion, between truth and propaganda. The pace and energy of Act I and Act II are so distinctly different it heightens further the plight of our anti-hero. Ultimately, Don Juan must face the consequences of his actions but will he repent and reform?