I’m in the process of uprooting my life, career and most of what I’ve worked for over the past twenty years in London, in the pursuit of an uncertain future as a property developer (a term I am struggling to use in relation to myself given my complete lack of prior experience) and as-yet-undecided-other-source-of-income-earner in the Lake District.
I’ve given up the daily commute into London, and accepted an offer to sell my lovely house in leafy Surrey, in order to move into, modernise and redevelop my late uncle’s house in Windermere.
The last few months have therefore consisted of many trips back and forth between Surrey and Windermere, going through the painstaking process of clearing out the contents of my uncle’s house in order that I may be able to move into it, at the same time as ensuring my house is in the best possible condition to attract a buyer (which, surprisingly quickly, it has done – all fingers and toes currently being crossed in the hope that the sale proceeds without any unexpected pitfalls).
And just when I thought I was finally ready to turn my back on London, the city that dazzled me at age 19 when I visited it for the first time with my mother, delighted and entranced me at age 23 when I came over from South Africa for a year-long stay that simply wasn’t long enough and that has ended up stretching to the present day, and which has slowly, over the years, worn me down with its sheer non-stop energy, busyness and the gradual realisation that London is for youngsters and particularly energetic middle and older generations, that 20 years of my life is more than long enough to have dedicated to trying (and ultimately failing) to experience absolutely everything that London has to offer (anybody who tells you they have succeeded in doing so is lying; there is simply too much on offer and never enough time in which to take it all in) and that it’s time to look towards the next 20 years, and a different lifestyle, in completely different surroundings, away from the madness of the daily commute, the noise, the crowds, the skyscrapers, the pigeons …..
… along comes David bloody Tennant, sexy, seductive, lewd, crude, rapacious, despicable, loveable and just downright electrifying, on stage at the Wyndhams Theatre, in ‘Don Juan in Soho’ – and I’m right back to where I started, 20 years ago, totally in love with London again.
Because where else in the world can you take your (surprisingly uncomfortable) seat in a grade II listed building, enjoy a few minutes’ chit-chat with your companion(s) while surreptitiously admiring the beautiful painting on the safety curtain at the front of the stage, and then within minutes be transported into the world of a louche, spoilt playboy determined to have his way with every woman he meets (an average of 3 a day for the last 25 years, we are told by his clearly horrified but ever-loyal butler, Stan – “You do the maths”) and a blatant disregard for the hearts broken and lives ruined in the process?
The play opens with the discovery that Don Juan (DJ), having just returned from his honeymoon, is holed up in a bedroom not at home with his lovely new wife, Elvira, but in a Soho hotel with a Croatian supermodel. Elvira’s discovery of this fact, and evident bewilderment and heartbreak, are at once hilarious and painful to watch – in his efforts to pursue her, we learn he had jumped through every hoop she had unintentionally held up to him, convincing her that he was as in love with her as she with him, visiting refugee camps, changing his diet, pretending to like her friends and share her interests, and even doing yoga, eventually marrying her because that was the only way he was able to get her into bed. While the clever dialogue and not-so-surreptitious mockery of the stereotypical, serious do-gooder, quinoa-loving young woman wanting to make the world a better place and saving herself for marriage, drew plenty of laughs, I was surely not the only audience member to wince at her brutally honest admission that DJ has awakened passions in her that she had never previously felt, and that his betrayal has destroyed her. Don’t we all have memories of similar moments in our own early romantic histories? The glorious awakening, the rush of love, the feeling that we were wanted, cherished, adored – only to have been cast aside a matter of days, weeks or months later? DJ’s complete disregard for Elvira’s pain – he’s already thinking of his next conquest – is quite appalling to watch.
The rest of the play continues in similar vein – alternately hilarious and excruciating; we simply don’t want to believe that anybody could really be this callous. It’s not just in his conquests of women, though, that his cruelty manifests itself – when Stan finally announces on a drunken night out that he’s had enough and is quitting, DJ, lounging on a bench, picks a chip out of the bag he is holding and holds it up in front of his field of vision, squints and pronounces, “There you go – rendered invisible by a fat chip. Isn’t perspective wonderful?”
The play is full of wit and clever dialogue, replete with contemporary references including a couple of digs at Donald Trump and a terrific rant about the ‘me-me-me’ social media generation in which everybody feels they have to share every opinion and experience they have (the irony that I am writing about this on my own personal blog has not escaped me) and a lament about how Soho is not what it used to be – 20 years ago, DJ pronounces, you could get a packet of fags, a shag and a cab home for under a tenner. Personally, I’m not sure that’s true, but this is theatre, so I won’t quibble.
Of course, this being Don Juan, our anti-hero gets his come-uppance at the end – done in by Elvira’s scary older brother, ‘Vicious Aloysious’, who gives DJ one last chance to redeem himself, apologise and avoid death. DJ, true to character right to the end, declares that he does not want to live unless he can live exactly as he chooses – prompting Aloysius to stab him first, no doubt deservedly, in the groin, followed up by a blade to the heart. As the rest of the cast dance on his grave, we are told by Stan that the world is a better place without him – and he’s undoubtedly correct – but there is something in DJ’s consistently selfish, don’t-care-who-I-hurt-or-offend, pleasure-seeking behaviour that I for one couldn’t help finding endearing (or maybe it’s just that David Tennant is so damn sexy). Whether it’s the supposed “I can change him” instinct of all women who just can’t help loving bad boys, or simply a weariness with PC politics and those who are afraid to offend and who always play by the rules, I found something incredibly life-affirming in this tale of seduction and sordidness in Soho.
If you’re in London, and can get hold of a ticket, do go and see it. In the meantime, I’m heading back up to the relative tranquility of Windermere.