Tuesday, 28 February 2017
by Sonja Linden
A Lion Of A Play Tamed
Even if performances of Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde proliferate, we have a confession to make. No, we haven't made a threesome with your husband/wife/partner, TLT, the motorised dominatrix and - No, no, no! Our confession is that we have never, ever seen a production of La Ronde before.
So we were looking forward to Roundelay, a waltz of short plays linked by one character jumping from one to the next, from Visible, a theatre company of older actors. For this was inspired in structure by the risqué Viennese classic.
However having done a bit of research and on the strength of this production, we are inclined to agree with Andrew Haydon's 2009 analysis of British versions. They are just rather tame, sow's ears rather than silk purses.
For this seemed like a dutiful rather distinctive adaptation by playwright Sonja Linden. Yes, there is a would-be edgier historical, political and showbusiness subtext. Although maybe subtext is too strong a word - gestures towards a subtext being more apt.
We are invited in by the "ringmistress" (Clare Perkins), complete with lion and tiger tamer's whip, to the "circus of life". Nothing wrong with a cliché as long as it's developed in more surprising twists and turns than in this production. While gestures towards a circus ring include a smidgeon of aerial acrobatics, this ring of seven plays unfortunately does not set the bar so high using predictable soap opera tropes.
Lives revolve around weddings, sexuality, divorces, illness and decline and sudden deaths with the ringmistress commenting on the interlocking tales.Again nothing wrong with that but the stories are curiously old fashioned and lack wit and originality.
While there is one business theme, noone worries about money. The expiration of a visa should feel topical but simply feels like an inserted plot device.
The piece tries hard to achieve a fable-like quality and we did wonder whether it might work better as a musical, of which more later. Still, Perkins as our hostess makes the most that she can out of the on-the-nose dialogue and wrings humour out of the interaction with the audience.
While the circus antics and pierrot musicanship (Ru Hamilton) inject a little liveliness into the proceedings, this feels like a play which has its structure ready-made, but doesn't know quite what to do with it.
In fact, the circus theme also feels like out-of-date whimsy, while the pierrot draws on 1960s' Marcel Marceau's Bip The Clown act and the craze for fey miming that it spawned.
If the circus were in some way integrated into the script during the show, with a meaning for the lives we encounter, it would feel more pointed. But it seems to be an external flourish. The stories could quite happily stand without the stock worldly wisdom of the ringmistress narrator's comments.
The more colourful, active framework with the pierrot playing a range of instruments - a highlight setting up an emotional heart sorely missed elsewhere - only serves to emphasize the plodding nature of the stories it contains
While we've said the stories are predictable, it seems a tad unfair to give them away if you want to go and see for yourself. Suffice to say, sex, desire, love and dementia are dominant threads (but no hint of the venereal disease which the original La Ronde implied) .
The strongest, most relaxed performance, and probably the most sympathetic role, comes from Annie Firbank as Evelyn the attractive widowed landlady to Francophone African architect trainee Daniel (Elan James).
It did strike us that it felt like a work gagging for some songs to inject some emotional weight. We wondered indeed whether Stephen Sondheim or similar had ever considered La Ronde for musical theatre. Googling afterwards we found that indeed there is the possibility that A Little Night Music was influenced by La Ronde.
It transpired there was a flop 1969 musical from Jerry Douglas and Hal Jordan which ran for a total of 11 performances but it now turns out a John La Chiusa musical based on La Ronde, Hello Again, is being transformed into a movie.
We certainly had the best will in the world to see a play dedicated to the "third age" succeed and the 10-strong cast gave it their best shot.
In the end, on its own merit regardless of age, this felt like a rather effortful and, despite the addition of aerial acrobatics from Anna Simpson and plenty of red noses on display, flat evening.
The sub-Cabaret framing device needed more development by director Anna Ledwich to bring out the tiger in this work and it's a rather regretful lower-range amber light from TLT