27th February 2017
I think it is said that, around the world, at any given moment, there is always a production of Arthur Miller's ‘Death of a Salesman' being performed somewhere. Well, Miller has nothing on Arthur Schnitzler. For every one production of the tragedy of Willy Loman, there must be ten versions of Schnitzler's ‘La Ronde'. Already in London over the past few months, Joe Di Pietro's smart, sassy, contemporary, gay interpretation, ‘F**king Men', has dazzled with its precision and wit; more recently, at The Bunker, another magnificent version has made its way to the stage. And now, at the same time as that one, comes this offering by Southwark Playhouse in conjunction with Sonja Linden's Visible company. Honestly, anyone would think that Schnitzler had never written another play.
The USP of this project is that is showcases older actors. Nothing wrong in that. A little while ago, Lucy Bailey scored a great success with her oldies version of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest' (and toured it the length and breadth of the country collecting plaudits). So, hopes – and expectations – are high, when coming to this edition of the serial-bonking pot-boiler.
A wonderful cast has been assembled. Clare Perkins makes an elegant and commanding Mistress of Ceremonies, leading us through a circus-themed staging (and loudly recalling Wedekind's ‘Lulu' in the process). John Moraitis, Roger Alborough, Elan James (one of just two token youthful blokes) and Vincenzo Nicoli are the men – all very good and capable in their own way; and Holly de Jong, Annie Firbank, Doreen Blackstock and (token young female) Anna Simpson are the women – equally good at their jobs and giving great value for money in performances that attempt to make the best of things. Both men and women work wonders with their scenes, and furnish the stage with bustle and business during the various circus-act-type transitions, with the young couple doing overtime in extra tumbling and cartwheeling and clambering up ropes to do impromptu aerial acrobatics. And what has that got to do with the subject matter? Well, use your imagination (or the derigeur strap-on dildo, or rather tatty-looking whip with which some of the interludes are tricked out). However, although the Southwark Playhouse does possess a chandelier, nobody is seen swinging from it in this production. There is another youthful member of the crew: Ru Hamilton, who begins by looking like Jean-Louis Barrault as the mime Pierrot in ‘Les enfants du paradis' and then plays beautiful music (by Max Pappenheim) variously on flute, cello, saxophone and clarinet. His contribution is probably the most completely satisfying of the entire evening.
Linden's take on the well-worn terrain sounds as if it has been written by a committee. She seems to have a compulsion to say everything twice, and preferably three times, perhaps out of a concern that her audiences weren't paying attention to the first occasion. She may have a point. We may have been distracted by all the funny activities cooked up by director Anna Ledwich or Diane Alison Mitchell's nervously restless and yet somehow simultaneously very static movement. While some plays opt to present different ‘levels' of experience, Linden's preferred method is to change the manner of speaking. There are more, many more, changes of tone and register in the script than there are swaps of sexual – and other – partners. This has the effect that quite where the script is coming from or going to, is never clear. If that is deliberate, then it is a deliberate decision to confuse the audience; if it is made by accident, then it is pure carelessness on the part of the writer. What does it sound like? Imagine Schnitzler as re-written by Jane Austen, and then that script re-written by Danielle Steele, and you'll be getting there.
A little while ago, the Southwark Playhouse presented an extremely good play about the eternal conflict between Youth and Age: it was called ‘Gods And Monsters‘. Now, in the very same space that Russell Labey's drama made such an intelligent, moving and beautiful impact, Visible's travesty of Schnitzler falls sadly flat. If you like simple – very simple – soap-operas about nice middle-class people, who drink lots of prosecco and talk at inordinate length and to no great purpose about their very ordinary relationships, then this is the play for you! If not, give it a miss.
Until 18 March 2017
Photos: John Haynes