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Don Juan Comes Back from the War

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Relentless, bleak, dour - not necessarily things you'd associate with "the most famous penis in Germany", as one awestruck nurse describes Don Juan while he lies in a hospital bed in bomb-ravaged Berlin, days after the city is taken at the end of the first world war.

But then, this isn't Don Juan as we think we know him.

In Germany-raised Odon von Horvath's 1936 play the philanderer is as damaged as Germany's capital, mentally if not physically - although he still wants to let loose on booze and women.

It won't be easy because the war has changed everything.

This is the first outing of award-winning writer Duncan Macmillan's new version of Don Juan Comes Back from the War and as soon as we enter the Finborough's small theatre our ears are battered by the rattle and boom of bombs, hazy light filtering through smoke.

As the only man on stage, Zubin Varla would seem like a tortured soul if you couldn't sense the collateral damage hovering around him.

He's surrounded by a brilliant ensemble of women. Each one he comes across is fascinated with him and there's a great range of carefully nuanced performances, whether childish, stoic, fragile or wry.

There's the mother (resilient but fierce Rosie Thompson) regretting her last day of work now the war's over; her slip of a daughter (versatile Charlie Cameron); and the ageing abbess (Eileen Nicholas) shocked to hear Don Juan say, "I've always wanted to fuck a nun".

Intriguingly, it's as if he can't help himself and his slide to debauchery in Horvald's play is clearly unwilling; he's almost bullied into role play by two prostitutes.

But is there redemption for him in the end?

He says he doesn't know what love is and the fascinating array of women we meet in this thought-provoking, atmospheric production would probably agree.

There are flashes of black mirth which I'd like to see more of, but director Andrea Ferren's choreography successfully lightens what could be heavy going in less sensitive hands.

- Vicky Ellis


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