Don Juan in Soho with David Tennant: Strange Magic

Sooo...it's been a really upsetting few weeks in the U.K. Two terror attacks, the horrible fire in London this week, the election madness. And every time I go to write a blog post I am stopped in my tracks, feeling insensitive, because guess what, the main exciting fun thing I did recently was go to London, it was wonderful, but I feel weird/wrong for writing about what a glorious sunshiney time my Mom and I had right now in light of everything.

So without specifically talking about London, I will take the time to write about one really amazing thing we got to do there: see David Tennant in the last week of his West End Don Juan in Soho run!

I genuinely, never in a million years thought I was going to get to see him in this play. I am kind of a Tennant fangirl. I got to see him in Hamlet something like 9 years ago now(!) in Stratford on Avon, and that was so special and amazing and I kind of felt like, well, if I never get to see him in a play again, this will do.

And so when we decided, VERY last minute, to go to London, a tiny part of my brain did ping "Hm! I wonder if it will be possible". It seemed unlikely as most seats were sold out or very expensive online, I mean, I'm a fan, but not like a SUPER fan (I have seen them on the interwebs, they fly from other continents and have shrines to him in their houses!).

Anyway our first day we knew the drill, head to Leicester Square for tickets. My hopes weren't high, but I did have a teeny tiny little flicker of hope because it was in the very same theatre (Wyndham's) where D. and I saw American Buffalo two summers ago (where does the time go!), where we had scored last minute seats on the day. So we bypassed TKTS in lieu of heading straight to the theatre box office. It was a Thursday, with just over a week left of the run.

I approached the kindly ticket man and asked, and lo, there were some seats! The only problem being they were charging three times what I had paid for Royal Box seats for the aforementioned American Buffalo - which...depending on the play, they can have a restricted view, so I wasn't keen. Having seen Tennant in Hamlet I was sure he'd be using the entire stage, my spidey senses told me anyway! Alas, they DID have two seats for Friday night, in the Royal Circle no less, for quite a bargain, 4th row. We briefly conferred and snapped them up, at this point my heart was pounding I won't lie!

I don't know what it is about theatre, I mean, I'm a former theatre geek, of course I love it, but something about knowing you are going to get to see an actual living, breathing acting genius on stage is nothing less than magical. I knew that even if the play was rotten Tennant would make it all worth it (this based on me being no big fan of Hamlet going into it!).

And so the evening arrived. I didn't have much room to stress about what I would wear, I had a choice of two outfits, I went for a slightly predictable striped top and black trouser combo, my Mom had the fashion centre stage, wearing her pretty new frock from Mantaray! We made sure to get to Leicester Square early, as we had a mishap the last time we went to the theatre from Kensington (the Circle Line east tube wasn't running, which happened to us again later on in this trip!) and literally arrived just as doors were closing.

So anyway it was very hot, and very crowded, as we tootled around Leicester Square. We were discouraged by the lack of air conditioned restaurants, and eventually settled on Carluccio's which is an Italian chain, which has one in Aberdeen but I had never been. Our food was lovely, but I won't go into all that now.

Our walk back to the theatre amongst the most crowded streets was yes a bit stressful, but also generally congenial and amused. Throngs of tourists mixed with locals enjoying that rare warm evening outside a pub. There was, I can only presume, a young wannabe male model, sat outside at a table, shirtless in a leather jacket, performing some sort of beat rhythms dance for what appeared to be his adoring audience via his phone: maybe he is an Instagram star, I will never know, but it was hilarious!

At any rate we got to the theatre, they had begun letting folk in, oh the excitement! We filed in and as I went to get my program, for some reason I forgot the word "program", I must have been that excited/full of anticipation! I just gestured/mumbled "Same" to the porter, like some idgit/actual Tennant nut ;-).

Our seats had a fabulous view, what a relief! The theatre is so gorgeous, with muraled high ceilings and Victorian architecture in shiny form as it had a refurb a few years ago.







As we waited for the play to start Roxy Music was playing, which for me bodes well! I had read a review or two so vaguely knew what to expect, but of course reviews can rarely capture how a play actually makes you feel.

Don Juan in Soho was written and also directed here by Patrick Marber, it is a modern update on the classic Moliere tale about a shameless lothario who eventually runs out of luck. It originally ran in the Donmar Warehouse in 2006/7 starring Rhys Ifans. Interestingly (perhaps only to me and other Tennant fans!) this is not entirely unchartered territory for Tennant, whose acting resume also includes the gleeful BBC romp Cassanova way back towards the beginning of his career (personally I got into him in Blackpool, long before all these Johnny come lately Dr.Who fans! I kid! But they are annoying, for reasons I will go into later! ;-).

Anyway the play opens upon "D.J."'s (short for Don Juan) assistant, Stan, played by recognizable film and television actor Adrian Scarborough. Stan, we quickly surmise, is a put upon, long suffering aide to D.J., keeping a digital list updated of all 5000 of his conquests and their details, amongst other butler like duties, all despite not having had a paycheck for awhile. He is downstairs in a waiting room looking area, awaiting his master's awakening after hosting some sort of orgy-esque party the night befere, in celebration of the demise of his short lived marriage.

We are then introduced to the mild mannered but emphatic brother of D.J.'s ex wife, who is upset at the way his sister has been treated and demanding some form of explanation for her lost dignity. Stan is apologetic but has nothing to offer him but a list of D.J.'s cataclysmic human wreckage, his appetite for hedonism at any cost, with little discrimination, is listed off like a very smutty c.v.

As the music cues for Tennant's much awaited entrance, one wonders how many actors today could pull this role off/live up to the hype of expectation. Tennant, on wonderfully mischevious form, did not disappoint. From the moment he danced onto stage, sloppily rakish in his bedraggled state, he captivated the audience completely.

These sorts of roles, after his turn as an irrepressibly horrible yet somehow ever so slightly likable villain Kilgrave in Jessica Jones, do feel perhaps like something that must come almost naturally at this point...and yet, Tennant is never anything short of 110% energy, savouring every lascivious gesture and lurid line with untempered glee.

The play is quite a cacophonous riot at times, with scene changes being accompanied by energetic musical numbers, set to various pop and rock tunes, with a cheeky wink in the lyrics to the subject and freewheeling gyrations of a Greek chorus style dance troupe, played by the supporting cast wearing masks and skimpy costumes.

As D.J. tries to return to his partying ways, he is mostly un-weighted down by the guilt of his corrupting his young wife, who was a virgin, whom he pursued for over a year and  promptly dumped after the honeymoon. While this is unquestionably not a sympathetic move, it is portrayed with lots of unapologetic humour by Tennant, and for me the weak point was at times the young actress playing his wife/her storyline. It's possibly down to direction/the Greek chorus type feel they were going for, but many of her speeches came off as a bit Shakespearean and overly earnest to the point of tedium.

On reflection, this was perhaps supposed to contrast with D.J.'s untempered joyful hedonism and slithering charm, but I found myself never genuinely empathizing with the character, she felt like more of a symbol than anything in a play that is quite bold with symbolism and supernatural/celestial themes, it felt slightly on the nose to have her be so blanketly noble.

A riotous attempt to break up a wedding leads to a boat crash and a hospital waiting room scene that has to be seen to be believed. As D.J. hits on the bride, whose fiance is a coma, he is simultaneously um...getting serviced under a sheet. In a scene that could have been flat out disgusting, it's somehow high bawdy humour, with Tennant Ha ha hamming it up, and a sort of piece de resistance of just what lengths this production will go to in the name of shock.

Similiar to earlier tales of Don Juan, the party is one that cannot continue indefinitely. The piper must be paid. Ominous Jacob Marley-esque threats are batted away (in a rather spookily bizarre statue coming to life scene), as are revenge promises from the wife's other, more violent brother.

Eventually D.J.'s father appears to talk some sense into him about growing up and accepting his family duty, after threatening to cut him off. We get a bit of back story about D.J.'s mother dying young, and brief moments of it seeming like the heightened caricature of a character is in fact human.

So many of D.J.'s lines in self defense are topical and addressed to the audience, with various jokes about Trump and Theresa May (without naming names) that really hit their mark. He is merely an honest hedonist being his primary defense, before launching into a profoundly rabble rousing monologue/riff on society's real hypocritical ills that had the audience roaring and shouting and virtually on its feet.

Tennant is a master at breaking the fourth wall and staying in character; I actually witnessed him do it, unplanned and with great mirth, during Hamlet when an audience member had a prolongued sneezing fit. This moment was probably the high point of the play, it's hard to top that sort of crowd engagement and good feeling, especially in a play without any traditional redemption moment.

D.J. is a man who mourns the Soho of his youth and no longer fits in a world of moralistic judgements and society's demands he behave better. You can almost sympathize, if only for the lost youthful recklessness we ourselves once had, which he clings to like a badge of honour. Is he a good person? No, but he is very fun to watch and I think does have several points throughout the play that speak true.

My other favourite element of the play was D.J. and Stan's relationship - the two actors had some wonderful, almost gently humorous moments together, where D.J.'s real terror at being alone is revealed and Stan's inability to leave him no matter how badly he treats him is sympathetic and subtly played by Scarborough. They had great chemistry, as opposed to some of the disconnect I felt with the other action of the play.

This production was spinning numerous plates at once, and despite a fairly clunky/not deeply affecting conclusion in my opinion, I still really enjoyed it overall thanks to Tennant's bravura and often moving command of the role. I feel like it's a play that had so much societal commentary going on that some of it was hard to absorb at points in amongst the riotous staging. The points that landed were great, but on a human level it was more farce than deep feeling for me.

The religion/moralism vs. hedonism themes didn't really grab a hold of me beyond a superficial entertainment level, maybe because I'm not religous, but I did feel sorry for D.J., he was a pure character in his way, and perhaps having Tennant play him meant you were always going to root for him as opposed to wishing him punished!

The staging, while somewhat overwhelming, was also mostly entertaining. As with D.J., the production felt like a sort of inexhaustible whirling dervish at times, but I was sorry when it was over. I wasn't entirely sure what the eventual point was, but oh was it fun!

I (now comically I realize) had the naive idea I might peek around the stage door and who knows, work up the nerve to say hello to my favourite Scottish drama god - I am usually way to shy for this sort of thing and shirk at most opportunities to accost actors. But as I said earlier - fangirl!

So as my Mom and I rounded the corner and I saw a massive crowd barricaded and practically braying for the tenth Doctor, my heart sank a little. No way was I joining that throng for an awkward harried hello, a terrible selfie, it just felt really impersonal and likely disappointing. We stood to the back and waited, just to see the crowd respond, and while I'm sure plenty of dreams were made the moment he came out, I was just thrilled to have seen him work his strange theatrical magic once more.








4 comments

  1. I loved Casanova too, that was where I first noticed him. He's definitely a fantastic actor and appears to be a decent chap as well. Sounds like you had an interesting evening anyway!

    Cheers

    MTM

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    1. He's da best! It was a good romp, definitely! :-)

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  2. Had to look this guy up, the only thing I know him from his from Jessica Jones, ha.

    Loved your review! You definitely earn the title Theater Geek (and in a good way!)

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    Replies
    1. Ha thanks! I am probably the only weirdo hoping for a Kilgrave return! ;-) I am surprised you guys don't watch Doctor Who!

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