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La Ronde: ‘unfailingly fascinating throughout’ – review

La Ronde, Alex Vlahos, Amanda Wilkin, Lauren Samuels and Leemore Marrett Jr (courtesy Ray Burmiston)Days after the motion picture Fifty Shades Darker went on general release came the press night for this new adaptation of La Ronde. Both are explorations of eroticism, romance and lust, and the film’s trailer strapline, ‘Every fairy tale has a dark side’, could equally be applied to this stage production. The original La Ronde was so controversial it didn’t get its premiere for more than twenty years after it was written; here, in cosmopolitan London in 2017, it’s not so much contentious as borderline absurd.

Each scene is a two-hander. A large spinning wheel is at the back of the stage, and with each scene change, in order to maintain some continuity, will include one of the performers from the previous scene, and one selected by the said wheel, which had photographs of other performers. No performer plays more than two scenes simultaneously. As the show’s programme puts it: “The actors are prepared to play any combination of parts every night but have no idea which these may be.” With two female performers, one white and one black, and two male performers, again one white and one black, the possibilities are indeed immense.

On opening night, despite the best efforts of the creative team behind this production, saw one of the performers rise to possibly take centre stage, only to sit down seconds later as the wheel selected someone else. The audience ended up audibly sighing when this kept happening, every time, leaving the same performer sitting out the scene to follow, until the play reached the point where there were no further variations to be made that would fit the narrative, so the said performer got their two scenes at the end.

As each scene could be played by, well, any two out of four performers, there are some interesting choices of names and descriptions of both on and off-stage characters. There is no ‘mum’ or ‘dad’, for instance, or even ‘uncle’ and ‘aunt’; rather a ‘primary caregiver’. A sexual aid is gender-neutral, as is the contemporary setting – for in the modern world, it is no longer as easy as it might have been to tell what another person’s likes and preferences are without asking – and even then, one cannot be sure they are telling the unadulterated truth.

There’s more than a whiff of Aspects of Love in a show where everyone appears to sleep with everyone, and, with the farce with one particular performer not getting their chance to play any roles until the last possible point in the evening’s proceedings, a line from the satirical American musical revue Forbidden Broadway, about Aspects of Love, came to mind: “Hey, I better sleep with you / To be sure I didn’t miss you!” Quite a few lines from elsewhere flooded my thinking, as it goes, but allow me to indulge in just one more, from ‘Whatever Happened To My Part’, which appears in the musical Spamalot. “Now we’re halfway through Act Two / And I’ve had nothing yet to do!”

The themes of class divisions and societal ethics from the original play by Arthur Schnitzler are reconsidered, and the blackouts just before sexual relations could reasonably be assumed to take place are retained. The dialogue then resumes after the two characters have done whatever they may or may not have done. It’s not so much prudish as keeping the play going at a fairly sprightly pace.

I don’t recall seeing Lauren Samuels in a play before: her performance here proves she need not necessarily be in a musical to captivate an audience. Leemore Marrett Jr has one of those velvety voices that would make a telephone directory (do we still have those in the digital era?) sound interesting.

Amanda Wilkin has extraordinary stage presence, and Alex Vlahos played a wide variety of roles with equal dynamism and charm. Bonkers in more ways than one, this repeatedly engaging show may not tell its unassuming audiences anything new. It is, however, unfailingly fascinating throughout – I loved it.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

London, 2017. The disparate lives of the city’s inhabitants are thrown together by the caprice of desire and fate.

How does your desire define you?
With four actors to play the cast of ten and roles selected with a roulette, our LA RONDE embraces life’s game of chance and the blindness of desire and fortune.

This portrait of the human need for another boldly reimagines the infamous original to interrogate modern attitudes to gender, sexuality, and social status. With over three thousand different versions of the show, which story will you see?

LA RONDE distils the beating heart of London’s sexuality with verbatim testimonies from real life prostitutes, lovers, adulterers. Where there is desire, there is power. Lust and the search for love bind us all.

Social Media: @larondelondon, @bunkertheatreuk, @collaboartists

Cast:
Leemore Marrett Jr. (Chariots of Fire, Hampstead Theatre; All My Sons, Talawa)
Lauren Samuels (Bend It Like Beckham, West End)
Alexander Vlahos (Versailles, BBC; Merlin, BBC; Fortune’s Fool, Old Vic)
Amanda Wilkin (Hamlet, The Globe and International Tour),

Creative Team:
Director: Max Gill
Designer: Frankie Bradshaw
Lighting Designer: Jack Weir
Composer: Nathan Klein
Casting Director: Jenkins McShane Casting
Producer: Daniel Donskoy for Collaborative Artists Ltd

PERFORMANCE DATES & TIME
Dates: 11th February – 11th March 2017
(No Monday or Sunday evening performances)
Times: 19:30 & 15:00 matinees
(matinees Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday)
Running Time: 95mins
Doors and Bar open 1 hour before show starts
Age Recommendation: 14+

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