Hoxton Hall – until 12 May
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Molière’s Don Juan was scandalous and censored when it was first published. Nowadays, the exploration of egotism, hedonism, sexual freedom, religion and hypocrisy in theatre are all so familiar that it takes a very special production of Don Juan to make an impact. Sadly, Theatre Lab Company’s production is solid enough, but more pleasantly diverting then ground-breaking.
The play follows the last days in the life of lothario Don Juan (Peter Rae), newlywed but already planning his next amorous conquest. Followed by his faithful servant Sgannarelle (David Furlong), Don Juan does his best to avoid Donna Elvira (Emmanuela Lia), her vengeance-seeking brothers, debtors and his God-fearing father, all the while wooing any female with a pulse that passes by. Superstitious Sgannarelle constantly tries to convert Don Juan to believe in something – anything – but Don Juan has an argument and snarky comment against everything Sgannarelle discusses.
Transplanting the action to Venice in Carnival season is one of director Anastasia Revi’s more inspired choices, with masks, costumes, dance and music creating a heady atmosphere at certain times and enhancing the idea of hypocrites hiding behind their masks. Unfortunately, these devices are also the production’s downfall. The music is overloud and plays at the oddest moments, drowning out pivotal dialogue. I was in the third row and I could barely hear the cast at times. The music, though evoking a carnival feel, was also performed in a muzak style, evoking the feeling of being trapped in a lift. Putting the speaking character of Charlotte in a full-face mask also backfired – Benoît Gouttenoire was sweet and funny, but extremely muffled, in huge contrast to the exaggerated stylings of Samuel Lawrence as Pierrot. Emmanuela Riva
Revi ensures that as much of the beautiful Hoxton Hall space are utilised in a physical show, but the pace lags at every dance break, even though Signe Preston is a very talented dancer. There are shades of Hugh Laurie’s Prince Regent in Peter Rae’s early scenes, but he grows into a funny, steely, self-obsessed performance, with his monologue on hypocrisy very impressive (in the parts that I could hear over the music). David Furlong’s energetic Sgannarelle is a wonderful foil for Rae’s spiky Don Juan. By turns boastful, aggressive, pious and glutton – Furlong keeps the audience’s interest with his physical clowning and steals every scene. The highlight of the evening is Furlong eating a chocolate éclair during a scene change, demonstrating exactly how much this production relies on his charisma.
Once the sound issues are resolved, and the audience can hear the funny lines, Don Juan will be a treat for Moliere fans. Worth the ticket price for Furlong alone.