An eclipse is rare. So’s a production that leaves me feeling exhilarated and jealous as fuck that I didn’t make it myself. Don Juan, by A Slightly Isolated Dog is both. Now it’s finished. You missed it .
What’s so good about it?
1. Everything it is.
2. Everything it isn’t.
3. Everything it portends.
1. Everything it is
It’s a group of people telling a story, in a way that you’ve never seen before. It will make you wonder why all theatre is not like this.
There’s not a speck of bullshit in it. The actors are upfront with you. It’s all bullshit. They’re conjuring a world and all the people in it from their bodies, their voices, a few random costumes and props, an awesome soundscape, and most importantly, your imagination, which they’ll fire and nudge in some unexpected directions. If you think that sounds limited, think what a novelist can conjure with 26 letters. You’ll pick up what they’re putting down in a way you’ve never felt it before. Particularly if your experience of on-stage sex is watching actors dry-hump.
2. Everything it’s not
This is not a prehistoric film made by people too poor to hire a camera. This is not a bunch of people pretending to talk in fake rooms. They don’t pretend they’re not pretending. In fact, they speak in shitty French accents so there’s no doubt they’re acting. They know we’re watching them, and it’s important to the story that we are. A film plays the same whether we’re there or not. This experience wouldn’t happen like it does if not for you, specifically,being there to watch it. There is a protagonist in this play – Don Juan, but he’s not portrayed by a single actor. He’s played by a baseball cap and a speaker-box that float around the theatre, landing on the head and hand of the person best placed to embody DJ at that particular moment. The person ‘playing’ DJ is further denied the responsibility and prestige of stardom because DJ’s dialogue is done by someone else speaking into a microphone. DJ’s voice emerges from the speaker-box while DJ of the moment mouths along. For settings and props, the company doesn’t try to depict ‘what it is’ so much as ‘what it’s like.’ A spooky forest is created by members of the audience holding spokey umbrellas. A gunshot is a popping balloon. They not trying to fool us, they’re trying to conjure images in our minds because they know this will be far more evocative than anything they could try to manifest as a set, character or prop.
3. Everything it portends.
Fuck-all people saw Don Juan, but I’m still confident that Circa made a great decision to program it. The work is good, people will take time to catch on. Luckily, all DJ needs is a space and a crowd. It challenges the rest of us making shows to think again. Theatre doesn’t have a fraction of the spatial requirements most bands do, but we’re still suffering the hangover from the heavy stage machinery of the Victorian era. We tend to act as if we’ve got more requirements around our choice of location than a restaurant.
Don Juan could be at a music festival near you, playing at the back of a mosh pit, it could be in the middle of a square in the middle of summer, or it could be in the foyer of a beautifully designed office building on a Friday evening so workers and passers-by can have a beer planted in their hands and a story planted in their minds. Don Jon should be coming to you. You can’t not enjoy it. But I can completely understand your reluctance to pay for it. Or go out of your way to see it.
With this in mind, I’m rethinking my relationship to the term ‘amateur’. It’s got dirty associations in the professional era, but when you think about it, it perfectly describes the activities and rewards of most bands, athletes, start-ups, audiences and businesses. Maybe it’s time for me as a maker to stop starting with the paycheck. Wayne’s World says ‘build it and they will come.’ We behave like ‘it’ means bricks and mortar, but what if it’s a community? What if we burned the old school to the ground and started from scratch, and built a new community around what theatre could be, not what it has been for the last hundred years. That’d be Don Juan’s greatest conquest. He would have torn us a whole new mouth. He would be the eclipse that killed the dinosaurs.
Tradition requires that Leo Gene Peters, Susie Bert, Andrew Paterson, Maaka Pohatu, Jonothan Price, Comfrey Sanders, Meg Rollandi, Matt Eller, Teresa Micheletti, Hayley Prooull, Susannah Donovan, Sacha Tilly receive credit for their individual contributions. But to be honest it’s what they’ve managed to achieve as a group, as A Slightly Isolated Dog that deserves the praise.
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