Don Juan

Wed 1st – Mon 27th August 2012

reviews

Davina Moss

at 00:22 on 5th Aug 2012

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Jackinabox’s production of ‘Don Juan’ is a compelling reimagining of the Molière classic, focusing on the human and emotional cost of flagrant promiscuity. Luke de Belder’s charismatic Devil pays a visit to the callow Don Juan, played with great nuance by John Askew, and demands evidence of a greater depth and intelligence to his behaviour. The setting is ambiguous, seeming to flit between flashback and the space within Juan’s memories, and the somewhat flat nature of his remembered-ladies gave a beautiful contrast with Askew and de Belder’s more vivid characterisation. Writers Stuart Hall and Beth Eustace, who also directs, deftly weave a progressively more emotional tapestry – Juan’s early memories are directed with the light humour and cocky charm to match the bragging of a lothario, but a later sequence in which Juan’s great crime is revealed is slower-paced, harsher and more brutally honest.

Surrounding and encircling the two men are a series of vaudeville-style girls, and their painted faces and silenced cries, along with the subtly sexualised movement and costuming really set the tone for the gender relations that Hall and Eustace wish to explore. A later moment when Juan’s wife, a heartrending white-clad Hayley Thompson, is finally allowed to tell her own story has an astonishing impact on the audience and we begin to understand fully the danger of viewing women through a man’s eyes. Thompson also serves as choreographer, and a series of dance tableaux and motifs gave an edge to the moments of seduction, again echoing the imbalance between the men and women of the play.The clever thing about the production is that it’s all based around these explorations of gender and gender relations, and once it clicks midway through the production one understands a whole series of creative decisions, but the team manage to walk the fine line between clarity of intention and anvil-sized hints. Simple, elegant and crammed with excellent performances, ‘Don Juan’ is well worth catching if you’re in the area.

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Natasha Tabani

at 11:05 on 5th Aug 2012

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The story of the fictional libertine Don Juan has been told many times in multiple languages by many great authors. This particular version was based on Molière’s 'Dom Juan ou le Festin de Pierre', a 17th century production in which a statue of a man he (Juan) has killed comes to life in order to exact ‘heaven’s wrath’ upon the rake. In this version, the statue becomes a devil who, in a battle of wits, forces Don Juan to recount his love affairs to prove that he provided the women with beautiful memories, fleeting moments of passion, and so escape his fate in hell.

The play begins with a man reclined on a luxurious chaise longue, his hair askew, shirt ruffled and his midriff bare. A table with a half-empty bottle of wine and several glasses lies to the left of him. The devil appears – a terrifying, humanoid, almost carnivalesque creature – and the repartee begins. Don Juan’s memories are acted out on stage, and he is able to pause and explain them to the devil at will. These revived encounters coupled with his scandalous explanations of them prove to be very amusing.

The actors are all entertaining; the men are good at sustaining and developing their characters, and the women are good at changing theirs. There’s a particularly impressive moment when a woman delivers her dialogue in French with a quick and effortless accent. The lead is charming, and somewhat reminiscent of Vincent Cassel. The devil is brilliantly devilish, switching his personality from ‘cool and charming' to ‘fiery and enraged’ at a moment’s notice. I was particularly impressed by Sgnarelle who plays a supporting role and perfectly captures the impression of an honest, faithful and completely silly servant.

The space, lighting and costumes all worked really well. The lighting is soft and orange, becoming brighter when the memories are played out, which helps to show the scene transitions (as they all take place in one setting). The style is true to the 17th century origins of the play; we are presented with corset dresses, stockings, tailcoats, lavish hats, and so on. Finally, as the memories of each encounter come to life, Don Juan begins to dance with the girls, and the choreography was lively and interesting: there’s a particularly difficult and very funny scene where Don Juan, Sgnarelle and two maids are all dancing and changing with one another at a super-fast pace.

There were only a few minor points which let the play down. The women’s acting was not always consistent and sometimes a bit wooden. Although I thought this may be because they are being shown through Don Juan’s eyes and his perception of women is proven to be shallow throughout, this was not made explicit enough. Also, the original play was stripped down to its bones in order to make a succinct, streamlined story. This did work, but it also resulted in the loss of some of the depth of the original.

Overall, the performance was classical, entertaining and faithful to the original in style. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys dark comedy and period or classical drama.

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