Don Juan in Soho: Patrick Marber on the West End revival

The writer, director and co-creator of Alan Partridge talks David Tennant, Tom Stoppard and the evolution of comedy ahead of his move west

A veteran of British theatre, film and television, Patrick Marber's works include Dealer's Choice (winner of the 1995 Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy) and films Notes on a Scandal (Oscar-nominated) and Closer. As part of the On the Hour and The Day Today team in the early 90s, Marber co-created Alan Partridge with Steve Coogan. Here, he expains about how the move of Don Juan in Soho to the West End came about.

When the Donmar theatre ended its run of Don Juan in Soho in early 2007, there was talk of taking it into the West End. Rhys Ifans was brilliant in the title role and the play had been a success, but unfortunately a theatre wasn't available. It felt like a missed opportunity and reviving it in the West End was always in the back of my mind.

My wife, the actor Debra Gillett, was in a National Theatre production of What the Butler Saw with David Tennant in 1995 and he has been a family friend ever since. Debra and David were chatting at a party late last year – I was at home with the kids – and he told her he wanted to do a play in 2017. He had seen Don Juan in Soho at the Donmar and was interested in the idea of a West End revival; I sent him the script and he came on board.

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David had always been at the top of my list of people who could do the part brilliantly, but the timing had never been right. He has incredible range, bravura and energy. It's a very physical performance; David is quite animal. He also has charm and huge likeability, which is essential. Don Juan is a monster, but one that hopefully you gradually grow to admire. You disapprove of him, but in the end you might find yourself thinking, "God, he's a life force". In a way, he has to seduce the audience in the same way that he seduces the people in the play.


(Image credit: Helen Maybanks)

As I only wrote it a decade ago, I haven't updated the play so much as tinkered with it. I've revised maybe ten per cent of it and I hope it's a proper, value-for-money show for the West End, with music and dancing. As with all my work, it's kind of funny but also sad. I have always thought of myself as a comedy writer, ever since I worked with Steve Coogan, Chris Morris et al in the early 90s. Comedy has become a broader category since then, but I can't imagine writing something without any laughs in it. Chekhov called his plays comedies and I certainly don't like seeing productions in which the director has stamped on all the jokes.

I have been lucky enough to direct plays by both Harold Pinter [The Caretaker in 2000] and Tom Stoppard [the current production of Travesties at the Apollo Theatre]. Tom was a bit worried about what I was doing with his play, as I wanted to put on a fairly radical production. I took quite a big kick at it. He admired the bravery, but was worried it would be a disaster. He's happy now, so the gamble paid off.

Harold was in his seventies when I worked with him and Tom turns 80 in July. I was shocked not only by their enthusiasm and energy, but also by the fact that they still cared so passionately about their plays in later life. I had this idea that in my seventies I'd be on my chaise longue, enjoying other people's productions of my work remotely. I have realised that it's unlikely and that the agony of caring about the work I do will never go away.

Don Juan in Soho runs from 17 March to 10 June 2017 at Wyndham's Theatre;

Travesties runs at the Apollo until 29 April;

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