It’s partly why we go to the theatre, to feel the heart-warming camaraderie that comes from experiencing something wonderful together. And New Zealand theatre ensemble A Slightly Isolated Dog (ASID) knows exactly how to generate this kind of affinity.

You’re welcomed with warmth (and terrible) French accents as soon as you walk in: “Hello my gorgeous darlings, come in, come in, sit over here.” You feel immediately at home, at one with the cast and other audience members. And so the party begins…

Originating as a character in Spanish folk tales, Don Juan, “the seducer of Seville”, inspired a slew of plays, operas, poems and films. He’s been portrayed as a dreadful monster, a charismatic hero, a troubled soul and a bikini-clad Brigitte Bardot (no, really). Many of his incarnations appear in ASID’s remarkable show (but not the skimpily-dressed BB, you’ll be pleased/disappointed to hear).

A Slightly Isolated Dog present Don Juan in the Space Theatre. Photo: Claudio Raschella

In true burlesque tradition, the faux-French troupe poke fun at the famous lothario using caricature and sketches designed to maximise laughs and stamp out any sign of pretentiousness.

A person with a beard and bright red lipstick parades the stage in astonishingly high heels. A “sexy forest” is formed from some badly damaged umbrellas. Don Juan has been having it off with a nun, and an audience member has been at it with one of the cast. It’s a seething orgy of hilarious mayhem, held tightly together with some very clever writing that pays homage to previous texts while simultaneously mocking them.

Inevitably, the 17th and 18th-century tales contain some worrying scenarios but these are cleverly navigated with subtle acknowledgements of the underlying tones of sexual coercion:

“He sneaks into her bedroom and gives her a kiss while she’s asleep.”
“He does WHAT?!”
“No, no, don’t worry, it’s all consensual.”

Two of most stellar moments (and there are many to choose from) are Don Juan beating up “Many Bandits” using nothing more than a series of sound effects, and, in a different incarnation, traversing an ocean that is beautifully and convincingly constructed from what looks like a giant, silvery bin bag.

And if the charismatic cast and their highly-skilled clowning aren’t enough to warm the cockles of your big, theatre-going hearts, there are also some pretty stunning renditions of 21st-century, girl-power bangers like Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” and Azealia Banks’ “212”.

Comfrey Sanders as Ginger in Don Juan. Photo: Claudio Raschella

Lord Byron declared, of his much-lauded epic poem Don Juan, that his intention had been nothing more than “to giggle and make giggle”. The ASID performers go one better, leaving the audience with hearts full of joy and cheeks sore from uproarious laughter. They’re rewarded with a well-deserved standing ovation. If stars were being given out, these guys would deserve all the stars.

A Slightly Isolated Dog is performing Don Juan at the Space Theatre in the Festival Centre until Sunday, June 12, as part of the 2022 Adelaide Cabaret Festival.

See all InReview’s coverage of the 2022 Cabaret Festival here.

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.