Beneath the Menier Chocolate Factory a wheel of fortune ticks over, allocating roles and parts to four actors with a sense of complete randomness, disrupting and modifying dynamics onstage. At the start of almost every scene, the wheel, with each actor’s face present, is spun, the chosen performer gets into their costume, and the play continues. It’s a neat trick from writer Max Gill (reminiscent of a student show at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe) and certainly adds an element of unpredictability and anticipation to the overall affair.
La Ronde, originally an 1897 Arthur Schnitzler play, is here recalibrated and transformed into a commentary on the diaspora of different sexual encounters in 2017 London. We see individuals indulging fetishes, dealing with mortality, warping power dynamics or passing from anger to attraction – a veritable carousel of copulation. Since the parts are randomly generated, gendered ideas become both less specific and, as a result, more pronounced – Gill relying on gender ambiguous terms to reflect on both audience assumptions but also on how scenes and scripts can shift in power. Dependent on the identity of the actor playing the role, certain lines, for example, are played humorously by one actor, but if delivered by another of the four could have a lot more serious or intense ramifications. Often I felt myself getting distracted by the possibilities of other actors taking on roles, losing, perhaps, a sense of investment in individual scenes while toying with the wider theatrical concept at play.
It would be reductive to describe Gill’s choice as a gimmick, but certain times made the whole thing feel a bit too performative – the wheel spin at the start of each scene lasting far too long, disrupting some of the show’s overall pacing to a significant degree. The flashing lights and show-y effects exacerbated this somewhat, as if the selected individual was now part of some game show rather than a discursive theatrical piece.
Beyond this Gill’s narratives felt like they were trying just that bit too hard to show the underlying connectivity of things – the incessant references to a man throwing himself under a bus or remarks about Antony and Cleopatra all sticking out not in an intellectually stimulating manner, but more of a blunt attempt to tie the show’s disparate threads together.
On the acting front it was an interesting phenomenon to watch the performers deal with the roles given to them – since, in effect, they’ve had to learn every line of every character in the show. The performances will invariably be different every night, but on my performance it was Leemore Marrett Jr. who got the lion’s share of roles (a fortunate set of circumstances, as he packed each with a nuanced humour and poise) while strong turnouts from other individuals kept the show ticking over.
Gill’s concept is certainly watchable, and while the practice is not entirely perfect, theatrical experimentalism can only be encouraged. At the same time, given the problems permeating through the piece (and it wouldn’t be an online theatre review without one cheesy pun) it’s hard to consider La Ronde all that revolutionary.