Arthur Schnitzler (if he were alive and kicking) would be having a whale of a time this month, with two versions of his 1897 novel La Ronde currently debuting in London. The first, La Ronde, having a turn at the Bunker, is a tight four-piece production with a pseudo-wheel of fortune at its centre, while Roundelay, currently running at the Southwark, is something of a different beast. For one, Roundelay has an expansive cast – covering different age ranges and demographics, going beyond the ‘hip twenty-something’ vibe that La Ronde stuck to.
There were some fantastic physical elements here too – use of silks and circus skills gave for a intriguing spectacle interwoven into the overall timbre of the show. These are juxtaposed with more naturalistic scenes, spanning the full circumference of Roundelay’s wheel and bring the show back to an overall narrative conclusion by the end of the show.
There’s a lot to commend in this vision of the show – the use of third generation performers certainly being the highlight of the performance. Age is clearly no factor when it comes to both libido and theatrical talent, and these stories, though often ignored or forgotten in society, are the most vibrant of the piece. Elderly figures should never have to conform to the expectations and whims of younger writers, and the fact that these characters felt so real and interesting was, to be clear, tantalising.
It was a shame, therefore, that other elements of the show felt somewhat underwhelming in comparison. The use of the narrative interludes often meant scene changes were slow and clunky, dragging down the overall tempo of the piece and robbing it of some of the essential punch. Some of these interludes equally felt rather repetitive – the second silk performance almost appearing too similar to the first (save for one where a younger actor danced around and above an older in a carefully choreographed duet, the same character represented in two different times, it seems). While the acting from the older actors was stellar, something felt a tinge more less impressive for younger members of the cast, without the same degree of experience. Though not large parts, the issue with La Ronde is that every link in the chain is only as strong as the next – it becomes more visible when there are no periphery figures. An exciting and more vibrant complement to the Bunker’s offering, though certainly with a few flaws.