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Don Juan Comes Back from the War, Finborough Theatre

Ödön von Horváth, in a new version by Duncan Macmillan
Directed by Andrea Ferran

Pros: Great venue delivering another solid production and offering great value for money; some strong performances too.
Cons: Felt it lagged ever so slightly in the middle.
Our Verdict: Quite an interesting piece of new writing to check out, and as usual the Finborough worth a trip.

Courtesy of the Finborough Theatre

The legendary character of Don Juan made his first appearance in the 17th century and has since been a recurring point of fascination in literature. The fact that so much of what we see of him on stage is familiar to us is proof of just how deeply entrenched into European culture this creation has become. Playwright Ödön von Horváth has placed his Don Juan in the aftermath of the First World War but, as he says in his preface, this character belongs to all times. And over time, he has been retold; reinvented for centuries right up until today, in 2012, when award winning writer Duncan Macmillan gives us his own, tortured and half mad Don Juan.

Director Andrea Ferran has done extremely well directing this piece and once again the Finborough theatre impresses with its clever yet simple set design. The sound design too is definitely worth talking about here as I thought it was excellently mixed and well used. The loud, drawn out bout of gunfire and exploding bombs at the start does unsettle and slightly madden you and the final sigh as the lights come down on a destroyed Don Juan is particularly chilling. When it comes to production value, the Finborough shows us just how it’s done in a fringe venue.
Enough praise for the venue, back to the play at hand. Sadly for me there just weren’t enough moments of greatness in the dialogue. On the positive side, the script did well to make us a part of post war society, and I admired the way that every motive of the characters on stage was somehow connected to the war they had all been forced to live through. Perhaps I’m just thinking too much about the bits I didn’t enjoy, which in all honesty was just the scenes in the house of a woman Don Juan slept with in the past, whom he now can’t recognise. I found that they made the play lag a little at a time when it should have been picking up. However, even these least favourite scenes of mine can’t be accused of poor performances as I thought Rosie Thomson, playing the Mother, did very well portraying one of the many women Don Juan had seduced and left without a moment’s consideration for her feelings. When even she begins to fall for him again, you begin to understand the kind of power he has over women.
As the only male on stage, Zubin Varla gives a strong, committed performance, at times showing great physical presence too. Zubin’s Don Juan has an old and sometimes weary voice and the venerability lent to his character breathes a soul into him, which ironically is exactly what Don Juan is worried he’s lacking. Putting so many women on a stage with one man, it is interesting to witness the reversal at times where he becomes the one harassed by them as his reputation precedes him wherever he goes, until at last we do feel the slightest bit sorry for him.
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Don Juan Comes Back from the War runs at the Finborough Theatre until 24th March 2012.

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