- A Review of Don Juan: The Destiny of a Libertine
The glow of candles and soft French music in the foyer of The Cockpit Theatre define the atmosphere of this play from the outset. The small stage brings the actors close to the audience, and there are just four narrow rows of chairs pressed against the dark walls. It creates the impression of descent into a surreal Baroque abyss, drawing you closer to the theatrical marvels of La Compagnie De La Filibuste’s Don Juan: The Destiny of a Libertine.
The play is an adaptation of Moliere’s Don Juan, a celebration of unbridled individualism and critique of the corruption and feigned piety at the highest levels of 17th Century French society. Telling the story of a promiscuous noble whose actions have no apparent cause besides lust, the play explores two contrasting themes of Moliere’s writing, the concept of determinism and libertinage. The lead actor uses the space to its full advantage, commanding the stage as Don Juan, a character who is condemned from the beginning despite the apparent liberty of his actions.
A focus on the visuals is apparent in the array of costumes. They are an eclectic medley of old and new. Some are stunning, boasting Bruno Marchini as their designer, some have been borrowed from various plays and operas, and others look like they have been plucked out the nearest schools drama department. Masks are a prominent feature and serve as a reminder that Don Juan’s painted face and nonchalant manner is also a disguise. The set is simple in comparison, relying solely on monochrome projections to effectively communicate the setting and add depth to the small space. The Baroque music lends the play an air of grandness true to its time.
Don Juan has no regard for religion and his actions may not be admirable, but he is inevitably charming. The director, Clement de Dadelsen, emphasises that Don Juan is a libertine, a promiscuous hedonist, but argues he is a thoroughly modern thinker for his time, as well as ours. I’m a little sceptical – perhaps he should spend a day at Goldsmiths? What is clear, however is that ‘repentance’ in this adaptation is not merely a religious convention, but rather a choice between the acceptance of social conventions or permanent ostracisation. The ending is profound, there are no grand theatrical devices, no flames or thunder; Don Juan soberly walks off the stage, head bowed under societal pressure. Here Don Juan becomes a modern figure, an image of exclusion and loneliness, reflecting the director’s intentions most clearly.
All in all this play is an aesthetic delight, a must see for anyone looking to escape their own deadline filled modern reality, if only for an evening.
Don Juan runs at The Cockpit, Gateforth Street, London, until Sunday 8 december.
More information: thecockpit.org.uk