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Don Juan

By • West End
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A couple of weeks ago, there was a fascinating article in one of the national weekend sections - the confessions of a youngish, well 41-year old, man in which he argued, `Of all the sexual perversions, monogamy is the most unnatural'. He went on to cite boredom and entrapment as the two biggest disincentives for a man and the relationship with the whore as the most pure.

Moliere's Don Juan - that scourge of honest women, the sensual braggard, forever the seducer promising marriage only to jump bail at the last moment - might, I fancy, have found a good deal of common currency with Mr Sebastian Horsley though Moliere's debate is not to do with the paying or not paying for sex but rather the spiritual wages of `sin'. It's not so much sex Don Juan is after but the excitement of the chase. Boredom and a sense of `entrapment' however, he tells us, soon break in.

Moliere, anyway, was using the Don as an extreme example to highlight various forms of hypocrisy, from the sexual to the religious. Indeed, for all the irony that pervades Neil Bartlett's handsome revival, adapted, directed and designed by him, Don Juan comes over as an exceedingly religious moral tract. Look what happens to you if you continue your decadent ways and go against God's law; you'll get your comeuppance.

In a largely godless society how do you make that tell? Bartlett, whose last production as the Lyric's artistic director this sadly is, makes his Don Juan, the blonde, willowy, James Wilby, seized at the end by a very modern form of heart-attack.

Wilby looks the part but lacks the ultimate libidinous psychological sense of danger and defiance. In a production that teems with echoes of previous Bartlett hits (The Servant, The Picture of Dorian Gray) and is sited in a gleaming, veneer dazzling 1930s world of glam decadence, it is Paul Ritter's Sganarelle, the Don's servant who stands out as the quintessential Moliere spokesman - the tricksy, sleazy, voluble, sidekick whose cry after Don Juan's death, `what about my wages?' brings the play to its subversive, anticlimactic close. There are equivocal notes running throughout, despite the powerful speeches of Felicity Dean's moving `fallen nun', Dona Elvira and Giles Havergal's preachy pater, Don Louis.

Don Juan doesn't quite have the shuddering philosophical impact of Bartlett's adaptation of Marivaux's The Dispute - to my mind his finest achievement - but his celebration of artifice and theatricality still carries a diamond-like brilliance. We wish him well.

- Carole Woddis


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