La Ronde, now open at The Bunker Theatre, is a complex and highly innovative piece of theatre that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats.
The original play, set in 1890’s Vienna, sees 10 characters from different social classes meet in pairs, either just before or after a sexual encounter, with one from each pair continuing into the next scene. This modern production of La Ronde, adapted and directed by Max Gill relocates the action to present day London and while the ten characters remain, they are played by only four actors.
Most intriguingly, the roles to be played are decided by a roulette wheel, spun between each scene. Not only does this make the production gender (and everything else) blind, it also creates over 3000 variations of the show, meaning the production you see is likely to be very different to the one I saw.
It could be easy to dismiss the wheel as a gimmick, turning a really good play into some kind of Channel 5 game show. In reality, though, it couldn’t be anything less like a gimmick – that wheel dictates the performance the audience sees that night, it represents the central notion of fate.
But La Ronde is also much more than the wheel, Max Gill has created an absolutely captivating piece of theatre. Every word or phrase has been cleverly crafted to ensure the gender neutrality, even the costumes, hung in a long row at the back of the stage, give no hint of a preconception. Then there are these wonderful recurring strands threading through each of the scenes; the coat given as a gift or the goulash, or the real voices of Londoners playing between each scene – all adding up to an intricately written and accomplished piece.
Taking the characters from the original and modernising them; the whore now an escort, the parlour maid an Eastern European cleaner, the young gentleman a PHD student. Each one carrying their story from one scene in to the next before disappearing forever, and despite this we still see enough to connect with the characters and understand them. This is, in part, down to the amazing cast; Lauren Samuels, Alexander Vlahos, Leemore Marrett Jr. and Amanda Wilkin, all of whom will be playing different roles when you see La Ronde.
I watched each scene wondering how it would play with another actor in the role, what if the wheel had landed differently and an alternative fate awaited us, but ultimately this has been so well written, and the cast so strong, it doesn’t matter who plays which role. The only problem with La Ronde is that I desperately want to see every possible variation, because I’m sure each actor would bring something wonderful to every character.
Fate dealt us a harsh blow, as Leemore Marrett Jr. failed to be picked until the second from last scene. Despite the collective will of the audience, the roulette wheel didn’t turn out the results that we wanted on the night. But just like life, and love, you don’t always get what you want, but what you do end up with, can still be something magical, and La Ronde is a magical piece of theatre indeed.