Don Jo – Arcola Theatre, London

Music: Arcola Participation Queer Collective, after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Libretto: Leo Doulton, after Lorenzo da Ponte

Director: Leo Doulton

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Arcola’s annual Grimeborn season fills a unique space – a fringe festival for opera in a world where most fringe arts festivals concentrate on theatre or comedy. Every year, it throws up surprising takes on beloved classics, sitting alongside experimental new works.

Don Joslides into the end of a largely successful season with a defiantly queer take on Don Giovanni. Arcola Participation Queer Collective’s adaptation sets out its stall from the overture, Mozart’s music smashing into clips from musical theatre and bubblegum pop with gleeful abandon. It’s less of an elegant mash-up, more a sort of audio mood board – a fitting overture for a show which crashes styles together throughout.

The adaptation, overseen by director and librettist Leo Doulton, sees Arden Fitzroy take on the problematic titular role, turning Don Giovanni into a butch femme who is on a mission to seduce anybody and everybody, and willing to rape and kill anyone who stands in their way.

Traditional opera librettos aren’t known for their skill at exposition. With a translation into modern English and plenty of spoken passages, it might be hoped that a little clarity might be brought into proceedings here, but unfortunately that is not to be. While the story retains the beats of the original opera, the murder subplot that propels Donna Anna (Renee Fajardo) to first seek Don Jo’s assistance in finding the killer, then to attempt to unmask him as the murderer once she discovers the truth, lacks coherence.

It does, however, allow Farjado to demonstrate her impressive mezzo-soprano voice. As the only true operatic performance in the piece, hers sets a bar for her fellow cast members which, sadly, is rarely met. Most of the other performers are given more modern pop musical numbers, one or two struggling with both pitch and tempo, somewhat dampening one’s enthusiasm for the whole venture.

Despite this, and with a script which rarely feels the need to excel, some performances still succeed in standing out. Giovanni Bienne’s Masetto and Börje Fontalva as his new bride, Zerlina, make for an appealing couple, but Doulton’s direction struggles to do much with each actor’s obvious charisma. Zerlina is reduced to simpering and fluttering eyelashes, while the cuckolded Masetto spends an inordinate amount of time mooching around the stage in a sulk.

CN Lester’s Donna Elvira, the ex of Don Giovanni who seeks to bring him down, is the best at straddling the heightened world of opera and the knowing wink of a modern comedy. It, too, is a performance which with stronger direction could have the potential for so much more.

As it is, Don Joremains a haphazard attempt to update an opera classic. But it is a production whose reach lies far beyond its grasp – a glorious mess that isn’t quite as glorious as it wishes to be.

Continues until 7 September 2019 | Image: Contributed

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A glorious mess

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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