13 February 2017
There are many things to be said about La Ronde but you can certainly never say that it is predictable.
There are 3,000 possible versions of this show, with characters being allocated to a cast of four through spinning a large wheel. The characters are written to be neutral in terms of gender and race, meaning that members of the diverse cast need to learn all potential roles.
The play itself was written by Arthur Schnitzler as a series of short vignettes about 1890s Vienna; this updated version from Max Gill sets the scene in modern day London.
Love and sex runs as a common theme throughout this production (although the act itself is never shown on stage); the fluidity of the casting makes for some interesting pairings and often subverts perceptions and traditional gender roles.
The spinning of the wheel also creates some dramatic tension and entertaining situations. On the night that I attended the show, Leemore Marrett Jr was passed over eight times in a row by the wheel, only appearing for a few minutes at the end, much to the audience’s amusement.
Whilst the premise was ingenious, the execution was not quite so strong. Characters quickly come and go, and with only minutes to develop them, it often descends into a parade of caricatures. They feel so disposable that it is hard for the excellent cast to generate any drama and yet the sketches don’t feel funny enough to work as standalone comedic shorts.
There are a few brighter moments; a nerve-wracking scene between Lauren Samuels’ wide-eyed cleaner and Alex Vlahos’ sinister student was perfectly acted and often difficult to watch. The recorded testimonies from real-life Londoners are also interesting; however, they are often overshadowed by the wheel-spinning drama taking place at the same time. These moments are the exception rather than the rule; the second half especially drags and the play ends on an underwhelming note.
None of this is the fault of an excellent cast, who excel in what must be one of the toughest assignments for any actor. They change between roles seamlessly, with Samuels developing particularly distinct and interesting characters. It is the first time I had seen her in a non-musical role but she has a natural flair for comedy (although perhaps the wheel gave her the best parts!).
Max Gill’s direction is sharp, supported by tense music from Nathan Klein, although the quickly changing story does create a few issues with the excellent set (do doctors’ surgeries normally have a bed in the middle?!).
The Bunker Theatre already looks set to become one of the coolest and most atmospheric venues in London; the former underground car park has huge potential for staging ambitious productions. However, whilst this adaptation of La Ronde is a brilliant concept, it is rich in style and yet lacking in substance.
Until 11 March 2017
Photos: Ray Burmiston