Don Juan in Soho

Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

29/05/2009 - 20/06/2009

Production Details

Spend the night with the Master of Seduction!
A comedy blacker than any little black book …

Dunedin is about to get a whole lot hotter… Don Juan was a hero-villain in folk legend.  His fame as a master seducer, a licentious rogue, spread through Europe in the 17th Century.  Fathers, brothers and suitors hunted him down to make him repent, but to no avail.  The women, the damsels, maidens and victim-virgins all lived in fearful longing that one day he might cross their path.  Men wanted to be him and women longed to be with him. He was a larger than life man known for his love-making skills, his techniques in combat and his life philosophies.  The Don Juan legend has been morphed innumerable times and is as set in our collective psyche as Casanova and Lothario.  French playwright Moliere used the tale for the final in his ‘hypocrisy trilogy’.  He has Don Juan sent to hell for refusing to repent for his lust, even after warnings received from a statue.  

Playwright Patrick Marber has taken Moliere’s Don Juan: magnetic, defiant, reprehensible, and set him in modern day contemporary Soho, London.

Hypocrisy is Marber’s main theme as shown through the post-modern culture of the individual as seen in blogs and paparazzi type media.  Where one and all aims for fame, where every one expects the world at large to be interested in their inner-dialogue blogs and party photos on Facebook. Don Juan will have none of it – he prefers the base but pure itch of desire above the tawdry confessional. 

On the Fortune’s main stage we will see Marber’s wickedly funny DJ! Essentially, a sex addict, indifferent to the destruction he creates, in his astonishing drive for satisfaction. And yet, there is nobility in his audacity, admiration for his arrogance – for totally without apology – he is loyal to his own desires. Even though his fate is an inner bareness soaked in sleaze and ending with a murder, which sounds like retribution, but Marber leaves any moralising up to his audience. 

"We live in an age of hypocrisy – don’t confuse it with authenticity"
Don Juan in Marber’s Don Juan

Directed by Ross Jolly who says Marber’s script is faithful to the formal strangely archaic language of Moliere, yet with a modern quality.  The play is existential and ethereal and that will be reflected in the simple set design and lighting which is set dark to emphasise mostly, the intercourse of the actors. But let us not forget the Don Juan in Soho is very very funny!

"All the other vices of mankind are opened to censure, and everyone is at liberty to attack them boldly; but hypocrisy is a privileged vice which closes the mouth of everyone."
D J in Molière’s Don Juan

May 29 – June 20  
Show Times: Tuesday 6pm; Wed – Sat 7.30 pm; Sunday 4pm  

Also the first Sunday of the Don Juan season we will have hosted tours of the theatre between 1 & 2 pm free of charge.  Just meet us in the foyer!

For more information on Don Juan contact marketing on 477 1693 to book go to: or phone box office on: 477 8323 


Aaron Alexander:  Don Juan
Simon O'Connor:  Louis
Alex Greig:  Colm
Jeff Kingsford-Brown:  Pete/Vagabond
Gavin Rutherford:  Stan
Mark Neilson:  Statue
Allan Henry:  Aloysius
Amy Tarleton:  Lotti/Ruby
Claire Dougan:  Elvira
Tansy Hayden:  Mattie/Dalia

Brendan van den Berg:  Stage Manager
Peter King & Matt Best:  Set Design
Mary Anne Wright-Smyth:  Costume Design
Phillip Dexter:  Lighting Design
Gary Keirle:  Lighting Operator
Bex de Prospo & Ross Jolly:  Sound Design
Bex de Prospo:  Sound Operator
Brendan van den Berg & Bek Sherratt:  Props
Allan Henry:  Fight Choreographer
Marti Rowe:  Graphic Design
Matt Best:  Photographer

Don Juan deliciously mines modern moral melodrama

Review by Barbara Frame 02nd Jun 2009

Don Juan is bad: selfishly, irredeemably bad. He fornicates, takes drugs and lies. He’s serious, but only about himself. He schemes and lies. Hearts break. People die. Women adore him.

Yet Juan has his own code. He wants to live, but only as he pleases. Fearing death, he prefers it to changing his ways.

Playwright Patrick Marber’s Don Juan is the latest in a long, long line, and descends most directly from Molière’s Dom Juan, ou le Festin du Pierre. The device of the statue, in particular, doesn’t make complete sense without some knowledge of the play’s 17th-century antecedent.

Ross Jolly’s production emphasises the high melodrama: the comedy, the violence, the excess of just about everything. It brings out the dark side of this modern morality tale, which attacks preoccupations with trivia, "issues," and the narcissistic blogging culture, and demands that we at least consider whether Don Juan’s approach to life isn’t more honest and refreshing.

Aaron Alexander plays him with Byronic charm and insolence. Most of the audience will relate more directly to his sidekick Stan (Gavin Rutherford), the keeper of the BlackBerry on which his boss’s conquests are recorded. He never quite figures his master out and is, when all’s said and done, in it for the money.

The action takes place on an opulently minimalist set featuring a decadently fuchsia-pink leather sofa.

Is Don Juan really someone the world would be better off without? If you want to know you’ll have to see this raucous, sexy, funny, demanding, stylish and definitely adults-only play, and try to figure it out for yourself.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


Jonathan Marshall June 7th, 2009

In recent classes at Uni of Otago, I mused with the students as to why the Don Juan narrative remains one told today. Certainly masculine vanity is a strong one. For all our moral codes, few heterosexual (and indeed homosexual and bisexual) men have not fantasised about bedding as many partners as possible without emotional entanglements at one time or another.

Beyond that though the question remains more obscure. As Frame observes, the Moliere version presented this as such a radical option for its protagonist precisely because Don Juan otherwise would have been supposed to follow in the tradition of his father and continue to enforce and hold up their family's place within the aristocratic regime of Old France. The possibility of a wastrel scion of high birth squandering the patrimony, authority, wealth and blood line of the then ruling class was a pretty controversial idea to say the least. While it was expected that scions of the aristocracy would "sow wild oats" in their youth, and doubtless continue to have concubines and mistresses into adulthood, the purpose of marriage and thus of socially recognised sexual relations was to perpetuate the family line and generate another son (or, by default, a daughter) to whom the earldom could then be passed on intact.

Marber's play then, and this production, is a curious mixture of the contemporary, the throwaway, the comic, and the historical. Quite why anyone much cares whether Elvira was a virgin when she married Juan is a mystery, and Marber does not try to resolve this anachronism, but rather skirts over it as quickly as possible. Similarly, while the revenge tragedy theme of her brothers pursuing Juan is given some vague justification by the fact that the brothers appear to hold to some old skool tribal code of justice because of their apparent links to organised crime (or possibly Irish terrorism; the play and the production is rather confusing on this issue), ultimately the reason for their violent pursuit and chosen weapon of a knife (to spill the red blood of Juan; a metaphor which works much more strongly if one bears in mind the idea of the noble blood line and how the nobility justified its position through allusions to knighthood and their roles as warriors of the blade in earlier times) makes little sense. Perhaps unsuprisingly then, Juan's death appears somewhat perfunctory rather than dramatic. The scenographic and dramaturgical logic is thin, and we see little blood, just a wash of red light.

What does remain after the tides of history flow into and out of this work is Moliere's verbal wit, and Marber's own largely ingenious reworking of these themes. Ultimately this is play of words and of verbal allusion, exchange and display, far more than it is a more rounded or indeed physicalised production. The mise-en-scene and staging is correspondingly sparse and simple; use of large blocky set items like the squared off couch, small fields of red or black in the use of unadorned leather or the basic costuming (which also, deliberately one asumes, tends to lack detail and thus further point one towards words over vision), and a generally highly simplified design which works well with the use of the Fortune's revolve stage. Transitions from scene to scene are quick, and there is rarely any lengthy consideration of the moral themes of the work. More words and more jokes are the rule here; rather like Seinfeld, Woody Allen or other similar New York US comedy with relatively little of the existentialist angst which might underpin this.

Consequently, the play ends without really probing the moral issues it raises. Is Don Juan the only truly honest or free character on stage? The idea is largely left hanging, although Marber is strangely moralistic about Juan. Too much sex is wrong, even today, it seems, if Marber's play is anything to go by, and at times one can almost feel Marber and the audience salivating in anticipation of Don Juan's comeupence. There is a curiously puritanical ambience to the production and the script, perhaps reflecting its generation out of a post AIDS environment. If Marber's work is anything to go by, the Summer of Love is well and truly over.

The weakest portions of the work are therefore, for me, where this morality is hammered in. Juan is an appealing dramaturgical figure because at times he does not appear like a character at all. He has no deep psychology or any of these much vaunted qualities which traditional dramatists are always banging on about as the basis of theatre. He is a kind of living dramaturgical and comic device more than a character; a shade or function, not a persona. So when he suddenly seems to be considering the error of his ways, it jars both with the figure as sketched on stage, as well as the play itself. Indeed, the strongest point is where Don Juan becomes quite literally a function of the stage and of theatre. In one of the closing scenes, he raises his arms and the walls which defined the theatrical playing space mid stage roll backwards to leave a wide open amphitheatre like structure, bounded by blank, black walls and about which Juan strides and enthuses in an impressive diatribe in which he condemns contemporary sociability altogether. Here, at last, all pretensions to realism fall away and Juan's philosophy briefly splutters into clarity. At least simply by fucking everyone he comes to know them directly and honestly, and this game of sex on a blank, empty and godless stage is all that is left to us in our contemporary life. It is a shame this virtuosic association of scenography with Don Juan's playfulness and his philosophy was not elsewhere more forcefully apparent.

All of which is to say the Marber Fortune "Don Juan" is a fabulous romp and a great radio play; a dazzling displays of words and allusions. As theatre, it is relatively straight forward. For those wanting a more rounded, or indeed critically focused approach to text, this production will disappoint. However for those such as myself who come to this work largely wanting to see the refracted glow of Moliere's (superior) text and comic dramaturgy, there is plenty here to enjoy.

Jonathan Marshall


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Farcical social commentary with pathos

Review by Terry MacTavish 02nd Jun 2009

Mankind, and I use the word advisedly, never seems to get enough of the tale of the physically and financially privileged sex maniac. This irresistible seducer was the stuff of folk-legend long before Moliere adapted Tirso de Molina’s Don Juan.

And now this latest interpretation by Patrick Marber updates the tale with clever relevance to contemporary London: an age in which Facebook and YouTube allow egotistical nobodies to force fame of a sort on a salivating world.

Is Don Juan anything special anymore? This raunchy Fortune production of Don Juan in Soho is sure to stir controversy.

The opening scene is quite orthodox: in time-honoured fashion lesser characters discuss the protagonist, Don Juan, and prepare us for something pretty special: "He’s a cheating betraying lying dog … broody Byronic bullshit … I hate him!" This perspicacious narrator is Don Juan’s PA Stan, ‘paid to enable and facilitate his lifestyle’, keeper of not the little black book, but the Blackberry.

The entry of DJ, as played with louche arrogant insolence by Aaron Alexander, actually lives up to his publicity. Sleek in evening dress and red satin waistcoat, Alexander inhabits his role with laid-back confidence.

We catch up with this master of seduction quite late in his career. For twenty years he has seduced matrons and ruined maidens, an addict who would do it with anything – "a hole in the ozone layer". Now he is just back from his honeymoon, with a woman he married because she was so virtuous there was no other way he could bed her, and he has discovered "there is no more frightening word in the dictionary than ‘wife’."

Hence his urgent fornication with a Croatian supermodel. But his bride Elvira, whose philanthropic endeavours make Princess Di’s Aids campaign look pitiful, is not a lady to let go easily. Nor will her brothers, and it is their determination to avenge the family honour that drives the plot.

The play could therefore be a simple revenge tragedy. Instead, it is a lively mixture of farce and wry social commentary, with a strange touch of the supernatural.

Under the direction of Ross Jolly, the farcical humour is emphasised, particularly in one hilarious episode in a hospital, when DJ is hitting on Mattie, while surreptitiously receiving oral gratification from Lottie. This reaches its peak in a wildly chaotic scene, involving the whole cast leaping over chairs and biting each other’s legs in mad confusion.

But there is a darkly disturbing side to Don Juan in Soho. The anarchic aspect of Soho itself, the desperate shallowness of lives dedicated to sexual depravity, and the inevitability of death, mocking such self-indulgence – nothing is evaded. We accompany Don Juan on a terrifying journey, as he is menaced by a statue that comes to life, aided by intriguing sound effects, and imaginative misty lighting on a set that draws no attention to itself.

Marber’s English is luscious, relying heavily on alliteration, and Alexander in particular delivers his rhetoric with relish: "I will seduce the moon, the stars, and everything that moves beneath the trembling sky."

In this he is ably supported by Simon O’Connor, one of the very finest of Dunedin’s own actors, playing DJ’s furious father, who demands his son with splendid lines like, "Where is the suppurating pustule?"

The character with the greatest audience appeal is Don Juan’s sidekick Stan, who, blithely ignoring the fourth wall, takes us into his confidence from the start, warning us not to fall prey to the charms of his boss. Although he exploits Stan, Don Juan insists, "You are the only one I don’t lie to – it’s a compliment." With his slightly battered charm, Gavin Rutherford is perfectly cast in this cosily endearing role.

Claire Dougan as Elvira has a tougher assignment – her character verges on irritating – but Dougan makes the most of her chance to explain her husband’s charm in a sexy speech epitomising the good girl debauched.

Alex Greig and Allan Henry are sufficiently sinister as Elvira’s vengeful Scottish brothers, though the whole family tends to suffer somewhat from fluctuating accents. Jeff Kingsford-Brown is comfortable in his roles as Cockney Pete, and one of Soho’s vagabonds.

The part of the mysterious Statue that hunts down DJ is challenging, and could be merely ludicrous, but the powerful presence and vocal strength of Mark Neilson ensure respect. 

As a deliciously brash Lottie, Amy Tarleton delights the audience in the most satisfying performance I’ve seen her deliver yet, while the lovely Tansy Hayden makes a creditable debut in professional theatre as Mattie. The two fulfil many a male fantasy when as tarts in luminous pink wigs they titillate DJ with a little girl-on-girl action. 

But of course the ultimate seducer is Death, and it is entirely appropriate that the ultimate attack by Elvira’s brothers shockingly mirrors the earlier sexy sandwich of DJ squeezed between the two whores. This final scene is striking indeed, with DJ attaining a sort of heroism in his refusal to live by any rules but his own, and real pathos is wrung from the ending. 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


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