Juan for the ladies
Misogynist, sex god or libertine? Don Juan is all this and more, as theatre director Jeremy Raison tells Mark Fisher
The late Robert David MacDonald, one of the triumvirate of directors who ran the Citizens' Theatre for 30 years, always used to say a translation was only good for about a decade. For some reason, classics remain classics in their original language, but translations pick up the tone of their times and quickly become dated. So it is apposite that director Jeremy Raison's staging of Don Juan is nominally translated by MacDonald, who died in 2004, but actually features very little of the script audiences enjoyed at the Citz in 1993.
'I was very concerned to make it modern, rather than the Don Juan myth preserved in aspic,' says Raison, who is co-directing with Maxine Braham, best known for her work as a dancer and choreographer. 'I looked at a framework of a modern Don Juan who is thrown into that world, so you get the Don Juan myth and our response to it. The more we looked at that, the more we developed a completely new piece.'
An early work by Carlo Goldoni, this version of the Don Juan story was unknown in Britain until MacDonald's studio staging. The Sunday Times loved the way it was 'not interested in the glamour of seduction but only in its dismal results', while The List welcomed its 'block-buster ingredients: sex and violence, good and evil, low comedy and high histrionics.' The Financial Times thought it 'astonishing that we have done without' the play since its première in Venice in 1736.
Rightly, Raison wanted it to be a play about sexual relations today, which meant not only focusing on the lusty Juan, but also the women, who do not always succumb to his charms, including Donna Anna, played by Neve McIntosh (pictured, above). 'I asked myself what it really means in the 21st century,' he says. 'Is he just a misogynist? What happens if the women are strong? Is he just a male wish-fulfilment figure? Co-directing with Maxine Braham means we're approaching Don Juan from a male and female perspective. That's important, particularly because we're asking people to be quite sexual at times.
'What intrigued me about the Goldoni is that the women are quite strong already, but I wanted to look at what happens when they say no, look at him from a different perspective or get their revenge.'
All this will count for nothing unless the lead actor can capture the dangerous charisma of a man who plays Russian roulette with the wronged women who trail in his wake. In Mark Springer, Raison reckons he's found just such a star. 'The ideal is that people should think, "Wow, that Don Juan is very sexy; oh, I shouldn't feel that, he's a bit of a monster",' he says. 'He's a misogynist but he's also got phenomenal energy. He challenges people who settle for mortgages, marriage and kids. Mark Springer walked into the audition and we knew he was who we were looking for. He has to be very attractive. And he has to have a danger about him as well as a magnetism. Even if people think he's horrible, they've got to think he's a bit fanciable as well.'
Don Juan, Citizens' Theatre, Glasgow, Thu 18 Sep-Sat 11 Oct.