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Don Giovanni Forces Entertainment

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The new ENO Don Giovanni, directed by Rufus Norris and designed by Ian MacNeil, is a messy and provocative affair, with the Don's demonic, rapacious "fixers" and enforcers suggesting the unseemly private lives of Tiger Woods or Silvio Berlusconi.

Celebrities and certain politicans can use money and power to satiate their lust, and Norris and McNeil tell this story with clarity and hilarity, leaving plenty of room for the music to breathe properly.

But it does look a little like a Forced Entertainment show, with funny dancing, (deliberately) bad wigs and the stage often strewn with banal properties; the dinner for the ghost at the end is like a low rent picnic from Tesco's.

The current Forced Entertainment show, The Thrill of It All, playing at Riverside Studios before resuming a national tour, exudes a sort of "amateur professionalism" with an end-of-the-pier vulgarity and quirky little homespun philosophical interludes.

I haven't seen the company for a few years, and nothing much seems to have changed. There is some very funny rubbish choreography to the insistent background of some screechy Japanese lounge music.

There's also a sideways "yes, we're all in a theatre" stuff with the audience that adds to a feeling not of unexpected excitement but of all too predictable "experimental" complicity.

Forced Entertainment are sometimes said to be mining a very old theatrical seam, and the same will no doubt be said (well, already has been) of Norris's Don Giovanni.

This is inevitable, but unfortunate: the Riverside audience of mostly young students and theatregoers loved The Thrill of it All, and the first night reception of Don Giovanni was pretty rousing with a merry streak of booing from the gods. 

Neither Thrill nor the Don is as good as the current Blasted at the Lyric Hammersmith, which met with a ferocious pasting from Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail, who listed its excessive behaviour in an indignant show of how rightly sensitive he was towards it: Blasted is absolutely horrible, but that's the point. What are we like?

But Letts, of course, sees Blasted as all part of a general conspiratorial corruption, "greatly admired by the Loony Left, not least by its dupes in the Critics' Circle." He goes on to suggest, too, that the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt "will be intrigued by the way the Lyric Hammersmith uses its public subisdy."

Ah, the Loony Left, do they exist any more? Not surely since Bernard Levin excoriated "Vanessa (Redgrave) and her Loonies" in the Trotyskyite Workers Revolutionary Party.

Not content with echoing one distinguished predecessor on the Mail, Letts then goes on to echo another, Jack Tinker, whose negative review of Blasted in 1995 was headlined by a sub-editor, "This disgusting feast of filth."

Tinker - whose surname was was wittily used by Sarah Kane in her next play, Cleansed, for the caretaker in a repressive institution - also appeared on Newsnight to argue that the Royal Court should have its Arts Council grant withdrawn.

He later regretted both the review and the interview. And he made spectacular amends by over-praising Mark Ravenhill's Shopping and "Flower Arranging" in the following year. Can't see Quentin executing such a U-turn, somehow.   
It's unpalatable, sometimes, to admit that Don Giovanni is an extremely unpleasant story. That much is certainly made clear in Norris's revival. Trouble is, most of us - loonies, lefties, and Lettses - much prefer the consolations of art to its downright nastiness about the beast that lurks within every single one of us.


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