When La Ronde was first performed in 1920, more than twenty years after it was written, it was deemed so scandalous that the author, Arthur Schnitzler, was vilified as a pornographer. You would imagine that in our more liberated and cynical age this exploration of sexual mores would seem rather tame; however, Outbreak Theatre have gleefully ensured that not an iota of the shock value is lost in their modern adaptation, State Of Affairs.
Both language and dress are modern and the set is minimalist, consisting principally and symbolically of a bed which is wrestled around the stage to provide scenery such as walls and skips as well as regularly performing its more traditional function. The scene changes were all carried out efficiently by the cast themselves at great speed and in darkness, accompanied by the pounding, repetitive music which seems to have become de rigueur in theatres recently. Writer Ryan Gaydon has kept the structure of the original script, consisting of ten vignettes throughout which ten archetypes have various types of congress with each other, eventually joining in a neat full circle. The characters have been updated, so the Count becomes the MP, the Actress becomes the Publisher, but the essence of the transactions, the sexual and emotional bargaining and dealing, remains the same. It feels like a dance, this to-and-fro of passion and rejection and confusion, an image which the group render physical during the internet chatroom scene as the characters whirl and parry in a frenzied, sexual waltz.
Though nothing overtly graphic actually takes place on stage, the authenticity of the before and after scenarios makes you feel slightly dirty, as though you had witnessed every act. The audience here is a Peeping Tom, a voyeur, and in some ways a judge, although no clear moral conclusion is proposed. Director Connor Abbott clearly relishes the social and sexual awkwardness, delicately prolonging awkward pauses almost to screaming point. The script is as enthralling as the action and slightly more high-minded; the themes are numerous and surprising and the verbal interaction between the characters feels authentic and natural and is at times laugh-out-loud funny. The performance is, however, a trifle over-long; an hour and forty minutes without an interval is tough on both the mind and the body.
How much harder, then, it must have been for the cast. For only four actors to play ten incredibly disparate roles so believably is a real achievement, and if I say there was no stand-out performance that is only because they were all uniformly excellent. The swift transformations from one character to another, often with no physical difference other than a small costume change, were as effective as they were impressive, and all four clearly appreciated the nuances of comedy and pathos of the situations in which they found themselves.
State of Affairs is an intriguing, unsettling and entertaining play, beautifully brought to life by four superb actors and a talented creative team. A real pleasure to watch.
Review by Genni Trickett
State of Affairs
In this updated adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde, sex, relationships and love in today’s society are looked at under a microscope. Honestly and openly, State of Affairs challenges the notion that we in the twenty-first century are any more comfortable with discussing our bedroom escapades than ever before.
In the late nineteenth-century, Schnitzler’s ground-breaking revelation into the sexual activities of Viennese society was deemed too outrageous for public performance. Outbreak Theatre present a radical, new adaptation that takes Schnitzler’s original and thrusts the play into modern day. Using a cast of four actors, this energetic production explores the humanity, diversity and deception of sexual relationships. Like the original, this new production adopts the play’s infamous daisy chain structure of sexual liaisons that encompasses the nation in its entirety, from the bottom to the top rung of the social ladder. Face your shame, embarrassment and desire head on with this exhilarating new production.
Camden People’s Theatre
2nd – 7th December 2014 7.30pm