La Ronde is worth seeing – and potentially worth seeing again, whether you liked it or not the first time. Added to some strong performances and the NCPeakeasy chic of second-season The Bunker, it’s definitely worth a punt.
La Ronde was first passed between readers as secret copies, clandestine pages too shocking to be publicly published or performed. When it was finally published, the play was banned. When it was finally performed, over twenty years after being written, it was almost banned.
The reaction was so violent that Schnitzler, its writer, withdrew both himself and the play from public life. The show wasn’t performed again in its native German until forty years after Schnitzler’s death. To capture the soul of something so shocking in 2017 would be no mean feat.
The original play presents ten interlocking scenes between pairs of lovers. Schnitzler scandalously presented not only extramarital affairs but extra-societal ones: a world where Counts sleep with Whores and Young Gentleman their Maids.
In Max Gill’s revisioning, each and every character can be played by any of the actors, male or female, homo or hetero, decided each night by an ever present Wheel (Ronde) of Fortune. There are over three thousand variations but each audience will see only ten – and almost certainly no audience will see the same ten.
Max Gill’s bold adaptation is inherently theatrical and genuinely exciting. The diverse, indiscriminate pairings and style reflect the surging sexual mass of bodies that is this fair city. However, by removing the very social structures Schnitzler sought to critique, the play’s message crumbles slightly. People have sex. People have sex whether they should or should not – with people and in ways they should not. But so what?
Gill’s writing is fresh, fast moving and up-front: “Can I piss on you?” one character asks. However, sustaining ten sex scenes is, as we can all imagine, somewhat tiring.
Early scenes (foreplay) are overlong and it all gets a bit messy towards the end, with thwarted incest, a royal encounter and a blocked lift shaft – no pun intended. Whilst illuminating the equality of perversion, the central arbitrariness of all characters removes the majority of emotional connection for an audience and depth for an actor.
Some scenes run the risk of becoming a bit SNL and sometimes, after particularly touching scenes, introducing sex seems a little laboured. Ultimately, however, Gill knows how to give his audience a good time and this adaptation can be safely added to the extensive list of La Ronde revisions worth revisiting.
In one sense, this is the perfect play for an actor. It showcases versatility and quick thinking, and any complaints can easily be rebuffed with a reminder of just how many versions they’re trying to remember.
In another, it’s the worst: it demands both your all and potentially your nothing – as Leemore Marrett Jr found out – and the Wheel of Fortune might thwart every good scene you’ve got.
The variations on this particular evening enabled Amanda Wilkin and Lauren Samuels to really get their teeth stuck in. Both very different but hugely commanding actors, the women evolve and respond to the nature of the scene and the space.
Alex Vlahos, who played all but two scenes featuring a male body, came across less favourably, playing a supposedly twenty-first century production with just one note: early-twentieth century. In short, too much privilege, not enough distinction. It is unfortunate that Marrett Jr, in receipt of only the pitiful leftovers chosen not even by the Wheel of Fortune but just to make sure he gets a go, plays the royal, adding to the limited range of male acting.
The direction of the piece is strong. Each variation seems solid and well thought out, with the actors able to find a sense of truth (however bizarre) in the arrangement of each scene. It might have been even more exciting for the starting actor in a scene not to have seen who the Wheel selected as a partner, or for perhaps some transitions to be slicker, but otherwise Daniel Donskoy’s direction is thoroughly proficient.
Offie-nominated set and costume designer Frankie Bradshaw works to foreground the changeability of the scenes by creating a scenery that never changes. In this case, less is more. A bed can be in a brothel or a family home, a desk in a bedroom or a surgery. The reality of the set should jar with the gameshow aesthetic of the Wheel of Fate and coloured strip lights however a muted pallet and industrial style gives the stage an eerie togetherness.
The costumes aren’t as fit for purpose, unfortunately, with abundant sweatpants lending a rehearsal room / Her Majestry’s Pleasure aesthetic to proceedings.
Jack Weir’s lighting is bright and bold, with some particularly striking moments in the transition. Nathan Klein’s sound and composition are equally good, providing interest and intrigue in the liminal moments.
La Ronde is worth seeing – and potentially worth seeing again, equally for whether you liked it or not. Added to some strong performances and the NCPeakeasy chic of second-season The Bunker, it’s definitely worth a punt.