Dom Juan review – Molière’s lothario gets lost in translation

·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Tonight we’re listening to Dom Juan’s seductive escapades in English. Tomorrow night this bilingual production, from co-creators Theatre Lab and Exchange Theatre, will be performed in French. The setting is Venice and the translation is by the American academic Brett Bodemer. Performed to mark Molière’s 4ooth anniversary, this eclectic production from director Anastasia Revi certainly celebrates the breadth of the French writer’s influence – but a lot of his original wit and clarity have been lost in translation.

Disappointingly, it’s the language that suffers most. Lead actors Dimitri Jeannest and David Furlong, playing Dom Juan and his servant Sganarelle, rattle through their dialogue at quite a clip. The frantic pacing infuses the show with a chaotic sense of comedy but there’s little weighting or shape to the scenes and they race by in a blur.

Related: Paris’s ‘House of Molière’ wishes happy 400th birthday to French theatre legend

Revi’s decision to create a gender-fluid production doesn’t quite come off either. A number of Dom Juan’s female love interests are played by male actors and reinterpreted as broad comedy cameos. Nathan Ricard gives a good panto dame but it seems odd to use the casting to give yet more stage time to men (never knowingly under-served in Molière’s play) and diminish the female roles rather than enhance them.

Tellingly, the best moments are without language. Costume designer Valentina Sanna has created (or at least sourced) a striking array of masks, which inject the dance, movement and fight sequences with a lingering sense of eeriness. In particular, a comic mime performed in that most romantic of settings, a Venetian gondola, finds an interesting way to laugh at the absurdity of love.

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