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Don Juan on Trial

Mar 01 2006 11:47
Ruth Davies
DramSoc takes an intriguing look at the legend of Don Juan in their spring play, "Don Juan on Trial" by Eric Emmanuel Schmitt
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Don Juan is a character who has fascinated authors, playwrights and their audiences for hundreds of years. There are a multitude of works that deal with this character - a darkly attractive, seductive man who makes women fall in love with him then heartlessly moves on to his next victim. In most literature about him, Don Juan is eventually punished by God and sent to the depths of hell, however, in Eric Emmanuel Schmitt's "Don Juan on Trial", he is punished in a very different way.

The story begins in a French chateau where five women, the Duchess de Vaubricourt (Brooke Milburn), the Countess de la Roche-Piquet (Lilly Topham), Mademoiselle de la Frotte (Stephanie Head), Madame Cassin (Alison Davies) and a nun, Hortense de Hautclaire (Irene Lahde), all former victims of Don Juan, meet to try him. He is to be forced to marry his latest victim, or spend the rest of his life incarcerated in the Bastille. His latest victim is the Duchess de Vaubricourt's God Daughter, Angelique (Natalie Heng) who is, according to her God Mother, dying of love for Don Juan since he left her and killed her brother, the Chevalier de Chiffreville (Gregory Robinson), in a duel.

To the women's' surprise, when they put this to Don Juan (Andrew Somerville) he makes no attempt to get out of their punishment or to explain himself and agrees to marry Angelique. Has Don Juan changed? Or is it something more sinister?

In the second act, the trial continues with Don Juan's valet, Sganarelle (Killian Frensch) called to explain his change in behaviour. He tells the story of Don Juan's real punishment and the play ends with the women's' responses to Sganarelle's extraordinary revelations. Following Angelique's rejection of him, Don Juan leaves to face a new life.

The play was performed "in the round", a format this reporter had not seen used in the Concert Hall before and whilst this had the advantage of drawing the audience into such an intense play, it did result in increased technical and directorial complexity. These challenges were admirably overcome by the production team led by producer Nico Bianco and director Soizic le Courtois. The audience were, in fact, so close that the heckling from certain people (who would perhaps have been more at home watching the football that was on in Da Vinci's) was uncomfortably close to the actors and this reporter was very impressed by how well they coped with it. This was particularly true of Irene Lahde who, despite this interruption, delivered Hortense de Hautclare's final, impassioned lines with all the feeling and strength of character the situation demanded.

Indeed characterisation and acting were excellent from all the actors. In particular, Andrew Somerville's portrayal of Don Juan's dark and complex character was outstanding and incessantly believable: his cockiness and nastiness at the beginning, all the way through to his pathetic ending. The five women were also very good, with Lilly Topham and Stephanie Head really making the most of their catty exchanges and Alison Davies maintaining her character well despite having relatively few lines. Natalie Heng's heartfelt performance as Angelique was also brilliant, particularly in her ardent definition of love.

Overall this was another superb show by DramSoc and everyone involved is to be congratulated.

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