Don John, Courtyard, Stratford
Loot, Tricycle, London
Sunset Boulevard, Comedy, London
Emma Rice's disco reworking of the Don Juan story features chopper bikes, vodka and the raunchiest Don ever
Sunday 21 December 2008
Festoons of circus lights decorate the stage, and a towering fairground ride flashes on and off in the foggy background of Kneehigh's new version of the Don Juan myth – aka Don John. It seems apt that the wires, every so often, mysteriously fizz or shower sparks.
Director-adaptor Emma Rice's forte is passionate physicality, and I've never seen a more erotic Don than Gisli Orn Gardarsson when he has a fresh female wound around his torso. This guy is undeniably hot, especially as he gets acrobatically carnal with Patrycja Kujawska's nubile Zerlina. They spin, flip and lock on to each other like limpets.
Knocking back pills and vodka, with spiked-up hair and kohled eyes, Gardarsson is a sexaholic exuding a lupine hunger for the opposite sex. A satanic coldness is conveyed too as he silently saunters up behind his victims, eyeing the napes of their necks.
Meanwhile, irresistibly funny clowning is provided by Carl Grose. He plays Alan, Zerlina's sweet, tubby fiancé, who repeatedly electrocutes himself as he fiddles with the light sockets for their wedding-party decorations, juddering off his ladder to body-pop, in ludicrous spasms, on the dance floor.
The choreography is great. Vicki Mortimer's set has a bewitching rough beauty, with cargo containers opening up as a series of glowing bedrooms, and all the mid-1970s references in Rice's update – from Chopper bikes to Dr Hook – add retro appeal.
Yet the precise setting – Britain in the strike-riven Winter of Discontent – proves spurious. It's not thought through at all. The Don overdosing, as a substitute for hellfire, has been done before and the dialogue, by Anna Maria Murphy, is mawkishly jejune: most embarrassing for an RSC co-production. Really, Rice needs to ditch some of her unevenly talented team. In fact, Gardarsson himself – though thrillingly athletic – is lame when it comes to the spoken word.
What the hell, though, Rice's long-standing composer Stu Barker remains brilliant. His songs, fearlessly interwoven with snatches of Mozart's Don Giovanni, fuse sizzling electric guitar and gypsy ululations. The curtain call, where the cast humorously dart into the audience to find new disco partners, leaves everyone on a high.
Maybe old Mr McLeavy, the Catholic layman in Loot, still believes in fire and brimstone, or in maintaining a smidgeon of Christian decency. The walls of his terrace house are adorned with kitsch icons in Sean Holmes' production of this satirical 1960s farce by Joe Orton.
The late Mrs McCleavy is lying in her open casket, stiff with propriety, but Doon Mackichan's Fay, the departed's nurse, doesn't give a damn. Fay is a femme fatale, oscillating between hypocritical pieties and brazen come-ons. The knees of James Hayes' McLeavy appear to be permanently buckling under the strain. Worse, his cad of a son – Matt Di Angelo's Hal, in winklepickers – is soon bundling his mother's corpse into a cupboard so that he and his buddy, Dennis, can line the coffin with stolen lucre.
Alas, none of that makes Orton seem either funny or disturbing. Di Angelo (from Strictly Come Dancing) is bland celebrity casting, with no edge. David Haig is a blast, nonetheless, as the preposterous undercover detective, Truscott. Snuffling around like a demented bloodhound – his palms permanently clasped behind his back, as if he has handcuffed himself – Haig provokes eruptions of laughter, and a sharp intake of breath when his police brutality, literally, kicks in.
In Sunset Boulevard, the skint Hollywood wannabe, Ben Goddard's Joe, ultimately pays for becoming the calculating toy boy of the bonkers ex-movie star, Kathryn Evans' Norma Desmond. Her lavish mansion looks puzzlingly like a junk-metal scrapheap in this low-budget production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical. Maybe the cast is trying to compensate by overacting wildly at the climax when not only Norma is insanely histrionic. Still, Craig Revel Horwood's multitalented cast (transferring from Newbury's Watermill Theatre) are pleasingly resourceful in doubling as their own orchestra. Goddard's pent-up Joe flicks through a film script with one hand, while playing the flute with the other, and a cigar-puffing mogul gives him the verbal brush-off while plucking dismissively at a double bass. Fairly enjoyable.
'Don John' (0844 800 1110), touring to 28 March; 'Loot' (020-7328 1000) to 31 Jan, then at Newcastle Theatre Royal (0844 811 2121) 2 to 7 Feb; 'Sunset Boulevard' (0870 060 6637) to 19 April
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