Writer: Molière, translated by Brett Bodemer
Director: Anastasia Revi
Molière has a position in the history of the French language and literature similar to William Shakespeare in our own. His plays contain the same potential pitfalls, too: each piece has the potential to swoop from broad farce to deep tragedy, but requires a deft company to take the audience with them on the emotional rollercoaster.
Multinational theatre company TheatreLab’s fitfully entertaining staging of Dom Juan starts strongly, with Don Juan’s valet Sganarelle (a spirited David Furlong) sparring with the audience. Director Anastasia Ravi’s choice to relocate the action from its usual Seville to Renaissance Venice also allows the use of mask work to provide both some visual flair and some cover for the inevitable multiple roles adopted by ensemble members Alexis Danan and Nathan Ricard.
Furlong also brings a spritely, lightly sparring edge to Sganerelle’s relationship with his master, the louche and lascivious Don Juan (Dimitris Jeannest). But while Molière’s play requires its titular antihero to be as charismatic to the audience as he is to the multitude of women he woos, here Don Juan never quite grabs the attention in that way.
This could be down to this production’s multilingual aims – while this press night was performed in English, alternate performances will be in French. Throughout, it feels rare for the cast to really speak Molière’s words (translated here by Brett Bodemer) with anything approaching a true connection to the dialogue – another tendency shared with lesser Shakespeare performances. It is possible that the cast will engage with the text more successfully in Molière’s native tongue.
An exception to this is Fanny Dulin’s Donna Elvira, mainly because Dulin’s perfectly strait-laced delivery plays well against the absurdity of Molière’s comedy. Sadly, the character only appears briefly at the start and end.
In between, Revi struggles to keep the pace up, especially as the farcical elements give way to conversations between Don Juan and Sganerelle about the former’s rakish attitude to life versus the Catholicism espoused by his valet. As a consequence, while the brisk 90-minute running time never quite drags, it does feel weighted down a little too heavily.
This year marks the 400th anniversary of Molière’s birth, so it is a little surprising that there has not been more attention shone on his works. While this production of Dom Juan may not be the best example of his style, it does at least show that English theatre could do well to look overseas more often when it comes to reviving 17th-century works.
Continues until 29 May 2022