Enter Hoxton Hall and you’re immediately transported back in time a good few decades, if not centuries. The Victorian building in Hackney serves as a music hall and theatre, among other things, and the next few weeks it’s the home of Theatre Lab Company’s Don Juan.
The classic 17th-century play by Molière, starring the hedonistic playboy and his pious valet, among a host of other characters, is brought to life again by Theatre Lab under direction of Anastasia Revi. Style-wise the play is in tune with its surroundings: the period costumes and archaic language fit with the velvet red curtains, wooden chairs and gold-painted balconies of the Hoxton Hall, and the music only adds to the atmosphere.
The acting has a distinct commedia dell’arte feel to it; many of the characters wear masks and adhere to archetypes such as the fool and the lover. This is an interesting and refreshing thing to see on a London stage, but it does take some getting used to. Moreover, the masks from time to time hinder the audibility of the speech, which is already a bit hard to follow sometimes, what with the language and some of the accents that the actors put on.
Visually, the play is definitely appealing. There are some beautiful set pieces, costumes and props, and the regular dance intervals are a pleasant addition to the spoken scenes, although a little repetitive and slightly messy at times.
Peter Rue and David Furlong are a pleasure to watch as a very metrosexual Don Juan and his servant Sgannarelle, respectively. They provide some great comic scenes that have the audience chuckle, and continuously debate whether there is something to believe in; be it god, medicine or love. Molière’s play was first banned and then heavily censored after it came out, and it’s no wonder why, considering Don Juan’s very liberal approach to love and faith. The riotous, overly confident and sassy Juan makes for some great theatre, though.
Theatre Lab Company have turned this classic into an interesting watch, and certainly taken an approach not often found in contemporary British theatre by returning to its commedic roots. This might be a bit of an acquired taste, but once you get into the story and go with the flow, you’re in for a fun night.