Don John

Emma Rice and Anna Maria Murphy, based on Don Giovanni
Kneehigh Theatre and the RSC

Production photo

This adaptation of the Don Giovanni story is probably too ambitious for its own good. It does, though, act as a fine showcase for the unique artistic vision of Cornwall's finest company, Kneehigh.

The plot is that of Don Juan/Don Giovanni, the cruellest of lovers whose trail of one-night stands must inevitably condemn his unused soul to an eternity in Hell.

Director/adapter Emma Rice has put together a multi-national company led by the stars of highly-regarded Vesturport from Iceland.

Gisli Örn Gardarsson plays the title role as a super-handsome lover who enjoys destruction as much as passion. One problem for viewers is that while he looks like a dream, this punk-chic Don John seemingly lacks any kind of sexual electricity.

With his long-haired partner in crime, Mike Shepherd's Nobby, he makes hay in a Britain struggling with Jim Callaghan's unwanted and ultimately fatal Winter of Discontent. This plays little part in the plotting but does give a number of supernumeraries the chance to dress in unflattering donkey jackets. Unlike every other performer in history, for some reason Kneehigh's players love wearing unfashionable clothing.

The play focuses on three contrasting loves - or, more accurately, conquests. Nina Dögg Filippusdóttir plays Anna, the repressed wife of an untrendy vicar, Mary Woodvine portrays a buttoned-up businesswoman Elvira, while Patrycja Kujawska is Zerlina, a pretty Polish cleaner engaged to the incredibly dull but faithful Alan (Carl Gross).

Designer Vicki Mortimer has worked wonders with a set that has been built around a couple of adaptable containers of the type usually attached to the back of lorries. These turn into bed and hospital rooms thanks to a touch of designer-led magic. These massive metallic structures and others including fairground lights create a great impression but must make the touring part of the job a real challenge.

The large cast act, sing and dance their way under, over and around the containers, accompanied by a great score that mixes opera, pop and new music. As ever, the original music has been composed by Stu Barker, with the bulk of the singing delivered by Dom Lawton, who energetically narrates in speech and song.

The love scenes are both tawdry and erotic while the choreography, helped out by Cscape a quartet harking back to Pan's People, enhances the story as much as the impeccably chosen music.

The story eventually runs short of ideas after the interval, which might be more Molière, Mozart or Byron's fault than Kneehigh's. The overall production qualities, though, are as good as we have come to expect from the company that still has the marvellously successful Brief Encounter running on Haymarket.

This production was reviewed by Gail-Nina Anderson in Newcastle, by David Chadderton in Salford and by Lucy Ribchester in Bristol

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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