★★ | La Ronde
Arthur Schnitzler’s turn of the century play ‘La Ronde’ is a frequently performed and adapted classic, partly because it’s an intriguing concept and also often because it’s usually staged with just two actors and a minimal set, making it easy to put on.
Taking the idea of a roundel, where people are linked through their sexual encounters, the original play looks at power, class and politics from the standpoint of sexual encounters. For example, in the original: a prostitute has sex with a soldier, the soldier has sex with a parlour maid and the parlourmaid has sex with a young gentleman and so on till we complete the circle back with the prostitute. It’s a bit like six degrees of separation (or six degrees of Kevin Bacon if you prefer). David Hare adapted the play into ‘The Blue Room’, which became notorious for featuring a naked Nicole Kidman. The gay version, ‘F*cking Men” was a witty and timely adaptation with cleverly drawn characters and a frisson of raunchiness. Sadly this version flounders and is an anti-aphrodisiac.
Writer/director Max Gill has come up with a novel take on the concept. His version features four actors and Wheel of Fortune type spinning wheel featuring their faces. Each scene is preceded by a spin of the wheel which results in a choice of which actor joins the remaining actor from the previous pair, meaning that there are (apparently) over 3,000 possible actor combinations in the play. Also, this makes the play gender neutral. The couples could be two women, two men or a man and a woman. The pronouns and language in the script allow for this. It’s a lively concept and one served well by Frankie Bradshaw’s arresting set and Jack Weir and Nathan Klein’s atmospheric sound and lighting. The gimmick works but sadly it’s not at all well served by the script.
The tone of the play is light comedy and despite some glimpses of promise and the odd flash of insight, on the whole, the script feels dated and pedestrian with few laughs and little depth. The characters mostly feel stereotyped and the acting is turned up to full stagey volume. I found myself looking forward to each scene ending and the wheel to spin again. I love a gimmick and am all for innovation and originality but there needs to be a more sturdy and polished script to make this work.
La Ronde plays at the Bunker Theatre until 11th March 2017