“All you talk of is heaven”
The tale of legendary philanderer Don Juan is one which has endured for centuries, told and retold by some of our greatest storytellers and this version by French writer Molière, playing at Marylebone’s Cockpit Theatre, dates back to 1660. Inspired by these Baroque origins, La Compagnie de la Flibuste’s production conjures an effectively theatrical world – evocative dance, sinister masks, lavish costumery and uncomplicated design all combining in support of this telling of the noted lothario’s antics..
Frenchman Xavier Lafaire plays Don Juan as a recognisable dandy, his swaggering cocksure manner making it easy for him to roam the land, sweeping any maiden he wants into his bed uncaring of the impact on her reputation and wrapping any number of merchants around his finger so they’ll forget the unpaid bills. But though facilitated by his resourceful manservant Sganarelle, a most affable turn by Christopher Paddon, and continually bailed out by his exasperated father, the consequences of such a feckless life cannot be outrun forever.
Much of the pleasure in this production comes from the interplay between Don Juan and Sganarelle, the banter between master and servant a constant joy as the responsibility for fending off yet another outraged lover, tailor, family member etc etc falls once again on the hapless help. But Paddon also gives Sganarelle enough feistiness to keep him an interesting character in his own right, passing comment on the self-destructiveness of his master’s actions, even if these warnings go unheeded.
But the attempts to locate the play on the edge of devilish darkness never really quite works. Director Clement de Dadelsen keeps the dancing spectres that punctuate the action too separate from the actors – they feel like a dispensable extra rather than an integral extension of the land Don Juan roams and which is trying to pull him in – and their interjections also rob the play of a considerable amount of pace. More successful are the macabre masks and excellent costumes which allow the company of six to play multiple roles to often haunting effect, fitfully creating the kind of atmosphere that the play needs.