Originally written in 1897 by Arthur Schnitzler under the name ‘Reigen’, La Ronde looked at class boundaries and their effect on sexual encounters. This is stepped up a notch in Max Gill’s updated version as it incorporates the original ideas but focuses more on the fluidity of gender and sexuality. Rather than the fairly straightforward idea of gender-blind casting, The Bunker’s production takes things to a whole new level by involving an element of chance: any one of the cast of four could be chosen to take on any role in each performance.
Looming over proceedings is the ‘wheel of fortune’, taken from the medieval concept of how everyone’s fates are decided. As the show begins, the players enter and present themselves to the audience – this is followed by the first two spins of the wheel (each scene is played out by a pair). The second to be picked will stay to play out the next scene, whilst the other part is spun for, and this continues throughout. There is never a spin before the final scene, as both characters are already cast by then, nor before the penultimate scene if one of the two options for the wheel was due to be in the final scene regardless. This eventuality actually played out on press night, as Leemore Marrett Jr failed to be chosen by the wheel and so was cast by default.
This concept, far from being gimmicky, makes the story extremely engaging – and just as much an event as it is a piece of theatre. The intertwining storylines are solid and interestingly linked, however it could have been quite dry without the added tension of the wheel; it also does more to promote the idea of gender not being an obstacle. Given the extremely slim chances of two shows being remotely similar (let alone identical), the entire run should allow for vast exploration of the themes. It’s also a thrill that four talented actors are being challenged in such a way – there has been a little trend for two lead actors to alternate roles (either planned or left to chance), but nothing quite like learning ten parts for any length of play and not knowing which you might have to put into action with very little warning.
This particular casting serves the comedy well, a fine example being Lauren Samuels as an Eastern European cleaner – as well as Alexander Vlahos as the prostitute, opening and closing the show with quite saucy humour. Vlahos is also touching as Vic, the professor, as he seeks comfort following devastating news; Amanda Wilkin is similarly moving in her first role, in the aftermath of a traumatic experience. Marrett Jr did well in this instance to come on so assuredly after being left out for almost the entire show, bringing a swagger to the role of the royal.
Each scene is punctuated by verbatim testimonies from the people who inspired the 2017 update, reminding us that this fiction is based on things that go on in the real world – as well as keeping the audience engaged while the wheel is reconfigured and the stage reset. The only element that can slow the momentum is waiting for the wheel to land on its next victim, however the suspense is rather entertaining (particularly as you near the end – and definitely if you’re waiting to see someone for the first time).
My verdict? A unique theatrical experience that toys with your expectations and leaves you on the edge of your seat – go and find your story while you can!
La Ronde runs at The Bunker until 11 March 2017. Tickets are available online or from the box office.