DON JUAN COMES BACK FROM THE WAR
by Ödön von Horváth.
Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Wine Café 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 24 March 2012.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 1hr 40min No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652 (24hr no booking fee).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 11 March.
Nothing’s fair in a bleak vision of sex and war.
It’s set in 1918, logically enough, but the opening scene in Andrea Ferran’s rare revival of Ödön von Horváth’s 1936 play brings music quoting ‘Mac the Knife’, from the Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill Threepenny Opera of 1928. Yet it’s another Threepenny number that comes to mind in this story, ‘The Ballad of Sexual Slavery’.
A post-Renaissance man of sexual prowess and allure, defying God, family and women’s virtue (or rights), there came to be another side to the Don, his addiction to sex. Add to that the loss and debility brought by the First World War, and Horváth makes the predatory hero a despondent figure.
Ferran emphasises this by grouping women around him. Most fantasies and stereotypes are there, with nuns, nurses and prostitutes. It’s his story, and memories, but they are the active ones. It’s only reading the stage directions in Duncan Macmillan’s version that the opening’s full orgy of decadence, a kind of sexual walpurgisnacht, is realised – the detail is too busy to be taken in at once.
After a long crescendo of war sounds, the sight of Zubin Varla’s Juan alone in a makeshift wooden bath with the women around him allies sex with war, making him seem a victim of both. He doubtless bears the scars of military conflict; he certainly bears the marks of make-up and lipstick.
Lost between sensory heaven and hell, talking or sleeping, unable to recover his lost love from pre-war, pursued only by revenge from before, giving him a new wound to carry round, Varla’s Juan staggers, thick-coated voice speaking in short phrases, till he makes tentative contact with someone, right at the end.
Ellan Parry’s platform set thrusts into the auditorium, placing Varla and the women in swirling arrangements. Ferran’s account is stronger on ensemble impact than individual moments. The performances are strong throughout, but the aim is to create a nightmarish phantasmagoria, where inevitable-seeming, yet disconnected events holds the traumatised post-war dreamer in their flow.
It’s a stark, nightmarish vision where past experience and thoughts become reassembled in the light – or darkness – of the shock of war, all ably realised.
Don Juan: Zubin Varla.
Woman 1/Nurse 3/Nurse 5/Nun 3/Prostitute 1: Leah Whittaker.
Woman 2/Nurse 2//Nun 2/Prostitute 2/Young Woman: Laura Dos Santos.
Woman 3/Nurse 4/Girl: Charlie Cameron.
Woman 4/Nurse 1/Nun 1: Sarah Sweeney.
Woman 5/Matron/Mother: Rosie Thomson.
Landlady/Woman with Knife/Abbess: Eileen Nicholas.
Director: Andrea Ferran.
Designer: Ellan Parry.
Lighting: Neill Brinkworth.
Sound: Edward Lewis.
Movement: Polly Bennett.
Fight director: Paul Benzing.
Make-up: Francesca Jordan, Sophie Venes.
Dramaturg: Deirdre McLaughlin.