Dom Juan ★★★★

Dom Juan returns to the London stage four hundred years after Molière’s birthday. The Recs went along to see how relevant this much-adapted comedy is to 2022

In terms of literary reputation, Molière is to French as Shakespeare is to English. After thirteen years as a travelling actor, he began to write comedies, farces, tragicomedies and even comédie-ballets. His comedy The School for Wives shocked Paris in that nothing appeared to be sacrosanct in his humour. The clergy managed to ban Tartuffe, his satire on religious hypocrisy, for five years. Dom Juan fared even worse: the scandalous tragi-comedy that ridiculed clerical doctrine and celebrated immorality infuriated the Roman Catholic Church who banned it after only 15 performances until changes were made.
Dom Juan is a story that has been retold many times. Molière based his black comedy on a Spanish play, The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest, which was then thirty-five years old. Subsequently the story formed the basis of a 1735 Goldoni play, Mozart’s 1787 opera Don Giovanni, Pushkin’s 1830 short play The Stoney Guest, Byron’s 1821 epic poem Don Juan, George Bernard Shaw’s 1903 drama Man and Superman and Bertold Brecht’s 1950’s adaptation to name just some.
All images © Hannan Images
The character of Don Juan is a rake and a libertine. He is ruled by his libido. Recently married to Donna Elvira, who he lured from a convent, his eye has wandered already to a new potential conquest. With his faithful servant Sganarelle, he follows her to Venice. However, Elvira has also made the trip!

The location of this classic tale has been switched to Venice during Carnival season, which acts as a clever device allowing Dom to disguise himself when his new brother in law comes looking for him spoiling for a fight. It also enables the small ensemble of six easily to slip into the roles of other characters with a quick change of mask and cloak.

On entry the audience is first greeted by a charming man with swagger who chats to to everyone whilst enjoying tobacco. We’re  initially encouraged to believe that this is Dom Juan himself, the signs are there with his easy demeanour, down to the letters D&J emblazoned on his trousers.

However this is actually Dom’s servant Sganarelle (played by David Furlong who reprises his role from the Hoxton Hall production) and we are then introduced to his master Dom Juan (played by Dimitri Jeannest) as he wakes from another night of seduction. It quickly becomes apparent why we made the mistake of confusing servant for master: yes Sganarelle helps his master dress and escape tight situations, however they share in a fraternal relationship, which is carefree with both servant and master seeming enjoying a shared hedonistic life of drinking, partying and fighting. As the action unfolds, the mask of their friendship slips as Sganarelle starts to question Dom’s behaviour and beliefs and becomes more of a father figure  questioning the morality of a spoilt child.

Jeannest’s portrayal of Dom Juan is delightfully laid back and louche, with a naive-like wonder of a child in a sweet shop who can help himself to all of the lustful treats, without any care of the consequences. In relief to the antics of the master and servant, Fanny Dulin’s provides a wonderful contrast in her portrayal of Dom’s straight-laced new bride Donna Elvira, who follows him to Venice and tries to show him the consequences of his actions.

There’s never a dull moment during the production, which has a joyous mixture of farcical fight scenes, stylised slo-mo dance sequences and musical numbers throughout. The use of music is evocative to the narrative and is particularly effective when Dom Juan sings along to Edith Piaf’s Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien after lying to his father that he changed his ways. The song sums up perfectly that he will never change his philandering ways and with that, his fate is sealed.

For those uninitiated with Molière, this production occasionally foregrounds scenes and imagery over plot leaving the audience potentially confused. An example: the production’s use of masks may look fantastic but it consistently muffles dialogue. However, this is a bold reimagining of Dom Juan, told with vigour and it is a wonderful opportunity to be able to enjoy some Molière in London, especially in French.

The Recs awards Dom Juan a formidable ★★★★ (4 stars). 


Dom Juan By Molière (Translated by Brett Bodemer, Directed by Anastasia Revi) runs at The Vault until Sunday 29 May, 2022


Wed 11, Thu 12, Fri 13, Fri 20, Sat 21, Sun 22,
Tue 2, Wed 25, Sat 28, Sun 29

Sat 14, Sun 15, Tue 17, Wed 18, Thu 19,
Thu 26, Fri 27

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