Monday, 11 May 2009


9/5/09, BAC

2 hrs 30 mins. Kneehigh's latest, a version of Don Giovanni set in England in 1978 (for some unfathomable reason).

It was pretty close to the opera but with much less interesting music, mostly nondescript rock from a band stage left whose members occasionally joined in as actors. The only tune that survived from Mozart's version was the lute serenade, for which three members of the band unplugged and came downstage to play, kneeling coyly, on a ukelele, a guitar and a (plucked) cello. Very neat.

There was a towering set of freight containers, with Don John and his mate, a sleazy photographer with a Polaroid camera (character's name forgotten, but played by Kneehigh founder Mike Shepherd, he of the hooked nose and cheeky presence, in a frightful seventies wig) sitting high up on deckchairs and clambering up and down on ladders.

It was done in what must be the biggest hall in BAC, with a dazzling array of entrances and exits, through the audience, down from on high etc etc, with the usual Kneehigh quick changes and doubling.

Most of the interiors were set in a large container, which was wheeled centre stage and back to the side as needed, rather cumbersomely, and its front and sides let down to reveal actors who'd entered by a door at the back, out of sight of the audience. Containers higher up represented a church and a hotel room.

There was some clever updating. Leporello's counting aria in this version became a song in which he recounted the legions of women DJ had seduced over a slide show of pictures of 70s lovelies.

Gisli Orn Gardarsson was DJ: a handsome presence but we felt not quite emphatic enough. As with many attempts to put charismatic figures on stage (Lulu is another) it's difficult to get across exactly what the other characters find so magnetic about them if the actor lacks sufficient heft. And if they don't have that heft the whole thing seems a bit pointless. One's not clear where one's sympathies should lie. In this production it lay mainly with the Commendatore's daughter, whose deep unhappiness and ineffectual vicar husband made her easy prey for the Don.

There were several moments of vigorous simulated intercourse, during which DJ would enthusiastically remove the woman's knickers... revealing a second pair of knickers underneath.

One of the best things about the show were the four dancers, in pitch-perfect 70s tank tops and hair do's: Pan's People in mufti. They were so good I assumed they must be 70s revival specialists, drafted in just for this production, but it turns out they're an all-purpose dance troupe based in Plymouth (I think the programmes said) with whom Kneehigh have worked on several previous productions. From time to time they were joined by a fifth, rather diminutive girl who may have been an understudy (since this was the last night at this address).

Our enthusiasm may have been increased by proximity: we were in the second or third row. A and S and Dr T, who were a few rows further back, were less enthralled.

The Guardian's round-up of reviews when the production was first seen at Stratford in December is here:

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