Don Juan, Theatre Royal, Bath

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The Independent Culture

Men don't behave much more badly than Molière's Dom Juan, and this recent translation by Simon Nye, the writer of popular TV series, misses few tricks in the way of smart gags and quick repartee. His translation of Molière - on whose art, according to George Bernard Shaw, "no human hand can improve" - continues this innovative double act by Bath Theatre Royal and the Peter Hall Company. Though the pattern of Don Juan may be " grande comédie", the patter here is as sharp and the comic situations as plausible as any modern exploration of one man's morals could be.

Men don't behave much more badly than Molière's Dom Juan, and this recent translation by Simon Nye, the writer of popular TV series, misses few tricks in the way of smart gags and quick repartee. His translation of Molière - on whose art, according to George Bernard Shaw, "no human hand can improve" - continues this innovative double act by Bath Theatre Royal and the Peter Hall Company. Though the pattern of Don Juan may be " grande comédie", the patter here is as sharp and the comic situations as plausible as any modern exploration of one man's morals could be.

The action is set in a Mediterranean fishing village, we are told, dressed in vaguely late-Victorian or Edwardian mode, and acted out before a huge gilt-framed, see-through mirror. The often fragmentary scenes range from well paced (Don Juan's buttering-up of the tradesman, Mr Sunday) to tediously long (Peter and Charlotte's capers on the beach), while Don Juan's chilling offer of gold to a hermit on condition that he blasphemes against God is actually quite moving.

With his edgy mannerisms and slick delivery, Will Keen as Don Juan seems not quite the stuff of the blue-blooded aristocrat, scarcely the offspring of such a distinguished-sounding father, played by James Laurenson. But as a slippery, self-centred conqueror of women and unrepentant defier of moral authority, Keen brings a scarcely concealed streak of vicious unpleasantness to the part, which adds a welcome degree of complexity to his character. For a credibly aristocratic demeanour, however, Guy Lankester in the minor role of Don Carlos runs circles round him.

As Sganarelle, torn between his innate sense of morality and the loyalty he must show to his monstrous master, Mark Hadfield almost steals the show with his superb comic timing. Rebecca Hall is less convincing on her first appearance as the convent escapee and wronged wife, Donna Elvira, though more assured when she returns to beg Juan to mend his ways.

With a light hand, the director Thea Sharrock makes a decent enough stab at bringing a sense of direction to this problematic play, though not entirely successfully in the tricky integration of the statue coming to life and bearing death. But the demise of Don Juan and his descent into a flaming abyss is brilliantly done, with the remains of his smouldering shoes adding a witty touch.

Nye's world is light years away from Molière's, however, and the combination of such differently flavoured textures leaves a slightly strange taste. But it's well worth catching, especially in the context of a season that includes Shaw's treatment of the same subject matter in Man and Superman, and that offers several chances to see not just these two plays but also Timberlake Wertenbaker's Galileo's Daughter in one day.

To 14 August (01225 448844)

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