BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

04/03/2018 - 07/03/2018

Te Auaha, Tapere Iti, 65 Dixon St, Wellington

04/07/2018 - 07/07/2018

NZ Fringe Festival 2018 [reviewing supported by WCC]

Production Details

One man takes on the whole of Mozart’s Don Giovanni for a night of lust, murder, and revenge.

Who will be #2684?

The Don will be a delight for both opera aficionados and novices. Even if you think you don’t like opera you will love this show. And if you do like opera you will be amazed at what one man* can do.

*assisted by one pianist, four films and one very melodic puppet.

BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage
4 – 7 March 2018
Full Price $20
Concession Price $15
Fringe Addict Cardholder $14

The Propeller Stage is fully wheelchair accessible; please contact the BATS Box Office by 4.30pm on the show day if you have accessibility requirements so that the appropriate arrangements can be made. Read more about accessibility at BATS. 

Return Season
Tapere Iti at Te Auaha, 65 Dixon St
Saturday 7 July – Saturday 14 July 2018
(no showing Monday 9th July)
6.30 pm
Full: $27.50
Concession: $22.50

Theatre , Opera , Musical , Comedy ,

55 mins

A wicked story told well

Review by Patrick Davies 09th Jul 2018

The Don is the story of a very ugly man: he does what he wants and to hell (appropriately) with anyone who gets in his way.  He attempts to rape a woman and then kills her father when he complains, he seduces his way around Europe with little thought to consequences, he avoids being caught by those he has wronged but ends up being dragged into hell by the statue of the father he killed after inviting that statue to dinner.

That’s the basics of Don Giovanni – a drama giocoso or opera buffa (depending on whether you’re Lorenzo De Ponte the librettist or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart the composer respectively), one of the cornerstones of the opera world. 

Stuart Coats, a former company manager of New Zealand Opera, attempts the herculean task of presenting the entire opera himself, within an hour. Well, perhaps not the entire thing – some scenes and minor characters are cut ‘due to time constraints’. Coats co-adapts the opera: musically with the extremely talented Thomas Nikora (Musical Director) and the libretto with Director Lyndee-Jane Rutherford. This is a return season, the show first appearing in this year’s Fringe festival. 

This is a highly enjoyable production. Any show that places impossible demands on the performer allows for two specific possibilities: to watch in joy as the performer achieves the impossible and/or to watch in joy as the performer fails in achieving the impossible. When Coats soars, we soar; when Coats uses a conversation with a puppet to discuss how good keeping hydrated is, in an effort to take a very short, well-earned breather while getting some water, we … laugh.

The style of production is eminently tourable. Dressed in comedy ‘solo blacks’ and utilising ‘titles’ written on cards (comedy surtitles?) we are kept up-to-date with the plot of Lust, Murder and Revenge (and more) by both Coats in direct address to the audience or as the main narrator of the opera, Leporello (Don G’s servant and unwitting (?) accomplice. Coats moves between the six main characters using mostly his voice via tone, timbre and accent. He keeps these characterisations solid throughout the piece as he flips between them when in the larger scenes.

I find continually taking the piss out of a foreign accent questionable in this day and age. I accept that Fawlty Towers and The Birdcage may be our comedy history, but … the rest of the audience laughs a lot, and I suspect the GP audience that may see The Don will too. 

As himself, Coats is adept and quick with his on-the-spot reactions to the audience and the story – on opening night it is almost renamed ‘The Repetituer, the Audience Member and the Hat’. He is able to comment on the action of the story as well as his performance to good comic effect; as Leporello he also provides the narration. The effect of having these two side-by-side keeps the narration alive as well as reminding us of the performative circumstances and allowing some howling groans that Coats delivers with a wicked wink.

Rutherford’s broad comedy style is rife and fits hand-in-glove with Coats’ demeanour. Lots of elements are brought to bear to keep the performance rollicking along. Stuart appears in glorious puppet form (created by Peter Wilson) to help in the multi-character scenes; film dramatising some scenes (directed by Dean Hewison) continue the ‘production values’ of the solo show to hilarious effect (the image of Coats in that wig is seared into my mind), with the ending visuals (Ed Davis) being comically spectacular.

The famous ‘catalogue aria’, where servant Leporello lists his master’s conquests, changes the European place names to NZ locations – though I’m sure there is more humour to squeezed out of this. At one point the libretto is completely replaced by a rock song and only Coats’ energy and perseverance stops this outliving its humour. 

If anything, I would have liked the attempted rape to get a value of darkness that it should have in comparison to the time in which it was written. I also would have liked to find that moment of etherealness that only opera can provide, to give those who don’t know a taste of what might be in store for them should they take the leap into a more mainstream production. It also would have given respite from the rollicking comedy. 

This style does allow for Coats to acknowledge all those tropes of Opera – the endless repetition of phrases in an aria, the grandiose themes, the wonderful Deus Ex Machinas that allow for ridiculous circumstances or ways to end a story. But we should remember that all of these exist in all our popular art forms (Michael Bay anyone? Shakespeare’s ‘exit pursued by a bear’? Iron Man? – choose any film). It also allows him to connect with humour and with heart. His voice is strong, versatile, easy to listen to whether he is singing or talking. He’s the kind of guy who’s good at telling a wicked story in the pub, and this is a wicked story told well. 


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Ingeniously staged blend of broad parody and love of opera

Review by Tim and James Stevenson 05th Mar 2018

It takes courage to perform an entire Mozart opera single-handed, even in an abridged version. Courage and a truckload of chutzpah, energy and invention. Also, a strong, versatile voice. And a likeable stage presence. An able musical director/accompanist, director and technical team will certainly help.  

Fortunately for Stuart Coats, deviser and performer of The Don (now on at BATS as part of the Wellington Fringe Festival), he has all of these things at his command. The result is an entertaining and lively show which will particularly appeal to anyone who enjoys opera and isn’t burdened by an undue sense of reverence. 

To put The Don in perspective: it’s an abridged version of Don Giovanni, described by Gustave Flaubert as one of the three finest things God ever made (the other two being Hamlet and the sea). The protagonist, Don Giovanni, is young, arrogant and promiscuous; a man so bad that he makes Harvey Weinstein look like Mister Sensitive New Age Guy. The Don demonstrates his badness forcefully at the beginning of the work by killing the father of Donna Anna, the young woman he has just attempted to rape. 

After that, the plot is all about lust, murder and revenge. The Don continues to behave badly, particularly but not exclusively towards old flame Donna Elvira. Donna Anna and her fiancé Don Ottavio busily but ineffectually seek revenge. Finally, in a fit of braggadocio, The Don invites a statue of Donna Anna’s father to dinner. At dinner, the statue offers The Don a chance to repent his sins; The Don refuses; and demons carry The Don off to Hell.

To trim Don Giovanni down to The Don, Coats dispenses with a number of lesser characters and subplots. That still leaves him with the challenge of representing six major characters, including the statue and Leporello, The Don’s servant.

Coats meets the challenge using multiple devices – always ingenious, often funny – employed in rapid-fire sequence. We won’t list these in detail, to avoid spoilers, but the publicity material does mention a melodic puppet.

The pace is often break-neck, to the point where it occasionally leaves the audience wondering what’s happening, and Coats panting and reaching for the water bottle. That’s part of the fun – Coats is comfortable breaking out of role and chatting with the audience about how the show’s getting on.

The Don walks somewhere between broad parody and Coats’ love of opera and ability as a singer. The two sides help each other out. Coats has a fine, resonant baritone voice which he displays to serious non-parodic effect in some of his roles (particularly Leporello). These interludes provide ballast for the knockabout humour that often prevails in other parts of the show.

At its best, The Don succeeds musically and as humour – for example, in the famous aria where Leporello lists his master’s many sexual conquests to Donna Elvira, with the names of New Zealand towns substituted for countries of Europe.

Coats is helped by a strong team. Physically, it’s a busy show which has the performer dashing about the stage and up into the audience, and all this activity has been well choreographed – credit to director Lyndee-Jane Rutherford.

The lighting (Dawa Deveraux) and visual display (Dean Hewison, Ed Davis) skilfully support the action. There was a largish lighting glitch towards the end of the opening night performance which will no doubt be corrected for performances to come.

Musical Director Thomas Nikora on electric piano works smoothly with Coats. It’s a good sign that Nikora is still smiling at Coats’ gags, which he presumably has seen many times before.  


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