REVIEW: Don Giovanni (Pleasance Theatre) ★★★★

Don Giovanni, produced by HeadFirst, is the central show for the Festival of Sex, Love and Death, bringing opera to the Pleasance Theatre for the first time. The festival showcases opera, dance, physical theatre and new writing with eight companies staging five events over ten days.

“Long live women, long live wine!” This is a female-led production of an opera about male desire; directed by Sophie Gilpin, designed by Anna Bonomelli and conducted by Sonia Ben Santamaria. In an age of everyday sexism HeadFirst have chosen to present the famous womaniser Don Giovanni and the fine line between seduction and sexual manipulation. Given the recent revelations from the Hollywood film industry, this seems an appropriate time to revisit Mozart’s famous work.

HeadFirst have collected a strong group of singers for this production. Sung in the original Italian with English surtitles, the cast draws the audience into Giovanni’s world of love, lust and wine. With simple staging and a small group of musicians on the stage, the focus is on the storytelling as we follow Giovanni’s downfall.

Matthew Sprange plays Don Giovanni with all the strutting confidence you’d expect from the serial seducer. His assistant Leporello is played with wonderful charm by Samuel Pantcheff, dressed in trainers and a tracksuit he stands out from the rest of the cast in a good way.

The female cast are all impressive performers well able to bring out the range of emotions inspired by their relationships with Giovanni. Elizabeth Roberts plays Donna Elvira, wronged by Giovanni and seeking revenge. Siân Cameron is Zerlina, the new bride tempted by Giovanni’s advances. The role of Donna Anna, abused by Giovanni in her home and then witness to her father’s murder is played beautifully by Caroline Modiba.

HeadFirst Productions promise provocation, dark humour and sensuality. They certainly deliver this here with a solid production and cast. There is something very special about seeing opera performed up close in a small space rather than in more traditional huge opera houses. I wasn’t sure this was a different take on the story but I enjoyed the performance and went away humming the familiar tunes.

Reviewed by Rhiannon Evans