Roundelay – Southwark Playhouse, London

Writer: Sonja Linden
Director: Anna Ledwich
Reviewer: Heather Deacon

Sex, lust and love all transcend the boundaries of age, so Sonja Linden unveils in the charming Roundelay, inspired by the ever scandalous La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler. At times surprising, at times clunky and often with tongue firmly in cheek, it is a sincerely fun night of awkward circus, with an insightfulness rarely seen in the young-pretty-people dominated world of London theatre.
Akin to a sort of r-rated Love Actually, all the characters in Roundelay are somewhat intertwined, with divorcees Bette and Adam (the sweet Holly De Jong and John Moraitis), a widower of alzheimer’s Chris (a touching portrayal by Roger Alborough), the ‘other woman’ Gina (Doreen Blackstock) and the widow Evelyn with her beautiful gay lodger Daniel (old school fabulous Ann Firbank and Elan James)… you know, the usual.

Each encounter is peppered with surprise and an intuitive look at the complexities of the human psyche, from a once vibrant vixen Bette coming to terms with the fact she’s going to lose her mind, to her husband Chris later coming to terms with the fact he’s gay, and perhaps always has been, at a gay orgy – where else? It’s daring writing, which embraces those areas of life we’re all aware exist but seldom talk about, and direction from Anna Ledwich that encompasses the surreal alongside the down to earth.

Clare Perkins is the ringmaster, sorry, ringmistress, in this particular circus where each character attempts to entertain the audience during the scene breaks with embarrassingly lacklustre tricks and gestures, which perhaps is the point? Perkins switches between accents at random, teasing the audience with her whip (though thankfully never having to use it) and keeping a delicate control on proceedings by highlighting the ridiculousness of life after each scene. Her performance is all sass, dotted with much needed comic relief after some of the more hard hitting scenes.

The set is minimal but for circus paraphernalia, most notably aerial silks that allow a tremendously daring act from Anna Simpson, one of only two youngsters in the cast of 10. Her skill in the air – and falling – was a lovely addition to a show where at times the movements directed did not seem to take into consideration the physical abilities of the cast. Whether or not the wobbles were intended, it didn’t feel necessary.

Roundelay is a memorable production thanks to some thoughtful portrayals, powerful hosting from Perkins and the musical accompaniment of Ru Hamilton, who seems to have mastered all the instruments in the wind and string sections. From successful Tinder love affairs (yes they exist) to the beauty of hindsight, the stories leave us humbled and satisfied in the knowledge that growing older ain’t so bad.

Runs until 18 March 2017 | Image: Contributed

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Charming but clunky

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