This production of La Ronde could have been tighter than it was, particularly in the second half. But it’s certainly a different way of putting across a story than having the various characters interacting with one another in scenes which vary from one-on-one intimate conversations to larger ensemble gatherings. Here, one character only converses with one other at any one time, and there are never any other (on-stage) characters who ever interrupt proceedings. The topic of sexual desire (or, to be blunt, lust) is only deviated from fleetingly, which keeps things focused. And by the end, there is some commonality between all the characters, but it takes a bit of work to figure it all out.
In some respects, it is repetitive to the point that I began to wonder whether this would work as a musical – indeed, it’s been done. Hello Again had its premiere off-Broadway in 1993, with several other productions since, and is usually performed as a single act. There have been other adaptations that work well as a play, including one I saw at The Bunker Theatre in February 2017, which remains memorable amongst fellow reviewers for the inclusion of condoms in the opening night press pack.
As for this production, there’s some modernisation from the first translations of Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 play, the colourful language from The Soldier (Michael Brosnan) being a case in point. But the production remains set in 1890s Vienna, and while neither the costumes nor the style of conversation may not necessarily have always reflected this, the substance of the dialogues certainly does. It would be unfair to say it’s outdated. Rather, it is of its time.
If some of the proceedings are not directly relatable to the way in which life is lived now, one has the option of deeming the production irrelevant. But the distancing effect created by observing the conduct of characters from over a century ago allows for a more objective analysis. The psychological aspects of the play are further brought out by placing no particular importance whatsoever on physically undressing on stage whenever caution is thrown to the wind. It’s a funny old world sometimes – there are productions that have nudity where it seems superfluous, and then there are ones like this that have bedroom activity in the script, and yet manage perfectly fine without.
Whilst there are no weak links in the cast, I highlight three performances, in no particular order. Firstly, The Housemaid (Nina Schlautmann) faced an intriguing dilemma between the moral dubiousness of the situation she finds herself in and obeying the wishes of her master, The Young Man (Bruce Thomson). Secondly, McQueen Francis as The Count totally inhabited the role, with a palpable sense of unease and curious reluctance. In his indecisiveness, he verbally stumbles, but without stuttering. Despite a very obvious reticence, he eventually succumbs to The Actress
(Teodora Yancheva), whom he clearly adores. Thirdly, Angie Sheree’s The Wife was very nuanced, being motherly towards The Young Man whilst simultaneously being an admirer of him, then having a showdown of sorts with The Husband (Andrew Garthwaite), an encounter with compelling ambiguity with regards as to whether the marriage survives.
In demonstrating the less than revelatory point (in our day, anyway) that, to quote the musical Avenue Q, “There’s a fine, fine line / Between love and a waste of time”, the pleasure of seeing this formidable and controversial play come to life is not, thankfully, nearly as fleeting as the cupidity its scenes portray. Overall, a curious and passionate (ahem) production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The inspiration behind THE BLUE ROOM described by critics as ‘pure theatrical viagra’, and Stanley Kubrick’s EYES WIDE SHUT – this rarely seen fin-de-siecle tale of sexual intrigue and morality receives a new production adapted and directed by Gavin McAlinden.
The Acting Gymnasium presents
By Arthur Schnitzler
Contains strong sexual references and not recommended for an under 16s.