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Review: Don John, Northern Stage, Newcastle

KNEEHIGH Theatre – in association with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Bristol Old Vic – has reinvented the story of the infamous seducer Don Giovanni.

KNEEHIGH Theatre – in association with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Bristol Old Vic – has reinvented the story of the infamous seducer Don Giovanni. The result is Don John.

This less-renowned womaniser prowls the streets of Britain during the 1978 Winter of Discontent.

It is an adventurous idea. Unfortunately it does not work. The story follows Don John as he spreads turmoil throughout a troubled British community.

It mixes drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll with love, sorrow and forgiveness.

That is the problem with adaptor and director Emma Rice’s production.

It attempts too much, resulting in an incoherent show with little direction.

Don John (Gisli Örn Gardarsson) lacks the charm needed to draw the audience towards such an unpleasant character. He looks the part, towering dark and handsome above the rest of the cast.

Despite this, the audience is left bemused by his irresistible effect on women. The only explanation is that they are all absurdly weak.

The females are meant to be pitied but instead appear pathetic.

Watching the havoc and heartbreak that Don John spreads among these women is frustrating and faintly ridiculous. Comic relief is provided by the other male characters, all of whom are defenceless in the face of Don John’s supposedly overpowering charisma.

The comedy is derived from their ineptitude, a humour that grows stale quite quickly.

A creative set and lighting effects keep the all-singing, all-dancing cast busy.

One moment is pure pantomime, the next a tragedy, then a musical with a live band on stage. These variations are confusing and contradictory.

Some of the audience did seem to be enjoying themselves. I grew concerned that perhaps I was the only disappointed person in the theatre.

During the interval I turned to my neighbour. “How long is the second half?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she replied. “Hopefully not as long as the first.”

Miranda Prynne

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