Round dance: Enigma’s La Ronde

Written around 1900 and not performed publicly until 1920, Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde (or Der Reigen in the original German) is based around a simple theatrical conceit, whereby ten characters (five men, five women) come together in a series of sexually-charged scenes, with one person leaving the scene at the end and replaced by the next character, in the pattern AB, BC, CD… JA. Its title, literally translating to ‘the round’ recalls the musical pattern of a round where interlocking melodies are staggered over the top of each other at intervals. Presented here by independent company Enigma, La Ronde is a seductive and beguiling play which, under Steven Hopley’s direction, shines and crackles with a very real sexual frisson.
Hopley’s staging here amplifies Schnitzler’s structural conceit; by staging La Ronde ‘in the round’ on a raised circular dias (designed by Rachel Scane), Hopley creates an intimacy which could easily have been lost in a larger, more conventional theatre space. Sparsely furnished, Hopley’s cast furnish their scenes with a vitality and a believability which is perfectly suited to Schnitzler’s timeless text. Some references have been understandably updated, but the play remains largely intact and (surprisingly) relevant and applicable to a twenty-first century audience.

Hopley’s cast of ten are all strong, as we have come to expect from his productions; to single any one character out would be akin to choosing a favourite child, such is the ensemble nature of the show. There is an interesting duplicity to the characters too, whereby they change their tact from scene to scene, until we are no longer sure who is what to whom, nor what they exactly want; sometimes they don’t really know themselves, and therein lies the dance. Amanda Maple-Brown’s Actress is mesmerising, beguiling and outrageous in a heartbeat; maybe for her it’s all an act and she knows it, but Maple-Brown brought a truthfulness to her role, as did the nine others, and we get the hint that maybe the Actress means what she says, too. Brendon Taylor’s Writer, like an excitable puppy at first, is overly earnest, too-eager to please, and there’s an endearing nature to his scenes. Jaymie Knight’s Ambassador is perhaps overly sincere with a flair for the dramatic, but he brings a gravitas to his role and gives his character dignity and charisma. Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou’s Sweet Girl is innocent and honest, bemused by the entendre that the Husband and Writer bring to their scenes with her, and she plays the truth of the scene with accuracy and tenderness. Leigh Scully’s Husband and Emily Elise’s Young Wife are tender and earnest, but there is also an undercurrent to their scenes which remains unplumbable, unknowable. Jasper Garner Gore’s Young Man is a bit of a hopeless Romantic in that he copies what he has perhaps seen in films or in books; he is very much the awkward young man yet there remains something endearing and good-humoured about him too. Peter Jamieson’s Soldier is full of a bravado and swagger, but it perhaps disguises a vulnerability which we get glimpses of on one or two occasions. Amy Scott-Smith’s Prostitute is forthright and bold, yet there is a tenderness to her as well in her scene with the Ambassador at the end. As with every other character, we find ourselves not judging them for their choices and actions, but rather identifying with them in one way or another as to err is only too human.
Perhaps more well known from David Hare’s two-person adaptation titled The Blue Room, La Ronde has not aged in the past one-hundred-and-fourteen years, and shows no signs of aging yet. It seems almost voyeuristic at times, the way we watch these ten characters lie and fabricate and falsify and elaborate stories to hide the truth, but there remains an honesty in both their performances and the writing and direction that cannot be accurately articulated.
As with all of Hopley’s productions, the focus is on the text and the words, the rhythms inherent in them, and the strength of this production (as with The Merchant of Venice) lies in its inherent simplicity. While some scenes drag a little, to cut or trim them down would be to deny the play its power, would be to cut the dance short, and it is here that Schnitzler’s genius shines through – the text is virtually inviolable. While Newtown’s Coronation Hall is a beautiful venue, its acoustics mean that some of the more intimate and quieter moments of this intimate show are lost. But that is not to diminish the power and magic of this production. Clear and concise, it is smart, sexy, clever, seductive and irresistible.

Theatre playlist: 34. Lovefool, The Cardigans

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