Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Don Juan, Relevance Nil

Gareth K Vile like Don but struggles to understand what it has to say to him


Apart from an unsatisfying introduction, which attempts to act as an expressionist overture but ends up as vulgar mime with a burst of unnecessary nudity, this up-dating of Don Juan is sharply directed, well acted and concisely staged. Mark Springer’s sprightly Juan is sympathetic and dashing, the set is balanced between detail and suggestiveness, and the original play’s tight plotting paces the action and humour. It is a fun-packed romp that showcases pair of skilful directors and an imaginative modern translation of Goldoni’s classic.

At the same time, it feels purposeless. The central tension at the heart of Don Juan’s drama – the battle between desire and society, spiritual warfare and sensual pleasure – is barely relevant to a society that has fixated on celebrity and abandoned church because it interrupts the hangover. Bringing it up to date only heightens the irrelevance: Juan’s modern counterpart is not a lover but a businessman swine, and the late appearance of two (probably trafficked) European prostitutes casts a depressing shadow over Juan’s seductions.

Against the harsh modern commerce of sex, Don Juan makes no sense. The object of his devotion, Anna, comes across as strident, not pious. Her relationship with her father looks incestuous, not dutiful: while this might echo the filial attitudes of some women, it is a matter for psychological evaluation, not admiration. And Juan’s romps aren’t funny when they are repositioned as rape. The speeches to the audience are half-hearted justifications, and only serve to emphasise how little this play has to say any more.

But it is well-crafted. It has handsome performances, for the most part. It provides spectacle, imaginative stage-craft and doesn’t out-stay its welcome. Stripped of the rather silly hospital scene, it is a rapid-fire pleasure. Sadly, it doesn’t add anything to any modern debate, ending up rather as the live equivalent of a soap opera.

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