Serial womaniser Don Juan (abbreviated to ‘DJ’ here in Patrick Marber’s updated version of Moliere’s 17th Century comedy) is what the ‘Buzzfeed generation’ might nowadays label the #ultimatelad. Others might argue he’s a #sexpest. I prefer to label him ‘a bounder and a cad’ because it sounds much more palatable, sophisticated…both of which are qualities that David Tennant manages to bring to the tantalising titular role.
Marber’s Don Juan in Soho first ran at the Donmar Warehouse in 2006, starring Rhys Ifans. For its current run, at the Wyndham’s Theatre Leicester Square, critics’ opinions have been divided by Marber’s take on the morality tale.
As characters of legendary proportions go (and, as this play hints, his portion size is legendary) Don Juan’s had more cultural outings than we’ve had hot dinners. Yet perhaps not quite as many as the notches banged into Don Juan’s bedpost. We first meet DJ having abandoned his newlywed bride, Elvira, in favour of a hotel romp with another conquest. Upon arrival on stage, dapperly dressed but disheveled, DJ unapologetically smokes indoors, charms hotel staff and indeed we, the audience.
DJ explains view of the human race is divided simply thus: “The ‘fuckable’, and the ‘unfuckable’”. Then, an all important subcategory: whether someone is haveable or unhaveable. The attractive and elusive are his ultimate desire. Hence him chasing the truly pious, virginal Elvira to the ends of the earth just to convince her to become his wife. Then, once he’s had his wicked way, he’s discarded her.
Set in modern Soho, DJ later gleefully regales his aide, Stan (endearingly acted by Adrian Scarborough) with how Soho derived its name. ‘Soho’ is a hunting term, once the area now littered with bars and sex shops was nothing but fields. “SoooHooo!” was yelled to call the attention of the dogs to a hare. Now, it’s DJ who’s at it like a rabbit. And the dog beside him is his not so much faithful as faithless companion, Stan. Stan’s patiently waiting for his wages, cited as the reason he stays at the lamentable DJ’s side. Ultimately, after many years of service, he’s loyal and duty bound to remain with his master. He’s far from a moral compass but he serves as DJ’s disapproving guide on stage.
Seduction is DJ’s sport. He should leave us smarting at his callous hounding of the fairer sex. And even the not-so-fairer sex, as long-suffering Stan states, his boss isn’t fussy, “He’d do it with anything – a hole in the ozone layer.”
Tennant’s varied acting career’s seen him appeal to a rather broad church (see what I did there?) but here he couldn’t be farther from the fictional shores of Dorset or exploring Time And Relative Dimensions In Space in Doctor Who. DJ’s closer to Tennant’s 2005 portrayal of BBC1’s Casanova but without quite the same the youthful fervour … yet the twinkle remains in Tennant’s eye. He’s wicked comic timing and his lithe embodiment of the drug-crazed, sex-obsessed antihero is impressive and enjoyable to witness. That’s the problem. He’s too hard to hate.
In this day and age, perhaps we’re no longer unhaveable, we’re unshockable. A key soliloquy sees him hold up a mirror to the crowd and the age we’re living in – and we agree with him every step of the way – particularly when DJ garners cheers from the crowd as he proclaims: “I’m not a rapist – I don’t grab pussy.” There’s some riotous scenes and one liners to tickle the crowd’s funny bones. Although, deep down, we know they should be pricking our conscience. We should all be rooting for DJ’s comeuppance. And yet, try as he does to act monstrous, there’s something about David Tennant’s performance that redeems DJ. He’s seedy, shameless, utterly abhorrent, but… we want to forgive him. Tennant makes him human, not devil. Sometimes don’t we all wish we’d the guts to follow our urges and say ‘To Hell with it!’? Problem for DJ is, to Hell could be where he’s headed sooner than he wishes…
Cast: David Tennant, Andrew Scarborough, Gawn Grainger Director: Patrick Marber Writer: Patrick Marber Theatre: Wyndham’s Dates: Booking until 10th June 2017