Writer and director: Max Gill
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 play Reigen (or La Ronde) keeps reappearing in varying forms, itself like a car on a merry-go-round. David Hare and Peter Morgan are among the writers who have produced versions in recent years and here writer/director Max Gill comes up with yet another take on the classic.
The essence of Schnitzler remains intact with a series of lovers seen in pairs in ten scenes like a tag team. One character disappears at the end of each scene to be replaced by another for the next, with the first character returning at the end. The characters span professions and social classes, but they all have in common a need to make emotional connections which is confounded by an unerring capacity to make only carnal ones. Gill’s adaptation sets the play in modern London and, between scenes, he inserts recorded verbatim testimonies from the city’s residents. However, he does not overcome the key problem with the original piece – that the short scenes are little more than sketches which have no room for depth.
These unromantic couplings are a perfect antidote to the sentiments of St Valentine’s Day, as lust outranks all other human instincts time and again. Frankie Bradshaw’s set design is dominated by a large spinning wheel and a king-size bed that looks as if it has come from the window of The White Shop. The sheets soon become ruffled. The purpose of the wheel is to select randomly which of four actors – Leemore Marrett Jr, Lauren Samuels, Alexander Vlahos and Amanda Wilkin – will play the character new to each scene. We are told that there are more than 3,000 different possible realisations of the play in this production, so women tangle with men, men with men and women with women, just as the world is 120 years on from Schnitzler.
Gill directs with a light touch that ensures consistency whoever plays the roles, but, at this particular performance, a flaw in his concept was exposed. By around scene four, the audience began to realise the it would be possible for one of the four actors to sit on the bench throughout and so it proved (almost), with the loss of a quarter of the company robbing the performance of some impact. The four bring diverse characteristics to the production and it seemed a pity that the writer/director’s essential point, displaying the randomness of human encounters, became diluted.
Unwittingly or otherwise, the production also makes an interesting contribution to ongoing debates in theatre surrounding gender and type casting. Some scenes at this performance left little room for improvement, but others, although acted superbly, misfired and the question hovered as to whether more considered casting could have changed the dynamics of those scenes and improved them. At the end, the niggling thought persists that tomorrow, with different spins of the wheel, the entire show could be perfection. Tonight, probably in common with most other nights, it was a bit hit and miss.
Runs until 11 March 2017 | Image: Ray Burmiston