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Network Theatre Company presents Ringmaster | Review

Ringmaster - Credit Olivia Thomson
Ringmaster – Credit Olivia Thomson

As part of Vault Festival 2019, Network Theatre Company presents; Ringmaster. Described as “electrifying work that reflects the highs and lows of our human connections” and being roughly based on Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde.

2018 saw a host of La Ronde re-boots including several with a strong LGBT+ theme so on the face of it Ringmaster’s USP wasn’t entirely apparent. However, having had the pleasure of seeing their previous piece Work Makes You Free, I had faith the Network Theatre Company would come through.

And they did. The first thing that became apparent was that with only 8 cast members, we weren’t planning to see the traditional ten scene shifts. Not to say that the settings and characters we did have offered up weren’t recognisable in connection to their inspiration in some ways but with a realistic modern approach and the implementation of the Ringmaster, we were treated to a relatable sequence of vignettes with an unexpected single overreaching character.

The Ringmaster, Emily Bates, was an unexpected character indeed, removing the fourth wall right from the get-go with an introduction in direct address and acting throughout the piece as a mix of narrator and director, offering up instructions and at times even physically moving the other cast members. The presence of the Ringmaster was never fully explained and while it was a character I liked, I did leave unsure as to where she fitted into the sequence and what had brought about that particular piece of writing.

In the spirit of the original, the main body of the play involved a number of interconnected scenes with rolling character changes and sex being the main topic of discussion. Unlike previous versions that I’m aware of, Ringmaster didn’t shy away from the physical act of sex but don’t get me wrong though, short of a little tasteful toplessness from two of the male cast members, there was no nudity and there were certainly no graphic acts.

In what I felt to be a well thought out move, this production used dance as a medium for portraying sexual acts and with the style of dance and accompanying music different for each scene, this was a very effective way of portraying the character relationships at their most intimate and giving context to much of the surrounding interactions. I never previously knew it’s not just pictures but also a well-placed dance that can be worth a thousand words.

While, naturally, I had my personal favourite characters, Network Theatre Company’s Ringmaster was certainly up to their usual high standard of acting and production. The only thing that bugged me a little was that to my mind it didn’t quite wrap up as well as it could have. It seemed like a bit of a rush at the end to close the loop and keep the cyclical nature of La Ronde intact. In a sense, I don’t think it even particularly needed that nod to the cycle and the piece may actually have been better without it.

That minor point aside, far from a simple re-boot, Ringmaster was a total shakeup and even those familiar with Le Ronde would, I’m sure, find it interesting and engaging viewing.

4 stars

Review by Damien Russell

A whispered suggestion. An accidental caress. A drunken encounter behind the back of a club…
In our sexual & romantic lives, how do public personas influence private performances?
Is it still-forbidden acts and infidelities that shock us, or the identity of the people who perform them?
What does it take to truly consent?
And are you really as in control of sex and love as you think…?

Emily Bates – The Ringmaster
Dom Thomson – Charlie
Sarah Wenban – Laurel
Kim Gabriel – Maddie
Shamini Bundell – Jo
Eimear Lacey – Rosie
Guillaume Lannes – Merlin
Matt Partridge – Jamie

Daniel Carter – Director
Agnès Rivet – Assistant Director
Alex Farrell – Assistant Director



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