REVIEW: LA RONDE (Bunker Theatre) ★★★

London, 2017. Gender and sexuality are fluid and free. It is possible to reinvent yourself with every new sexual encounter. Whatever you’re into, someone out there will be into you. Max Gill’s reworking of La Ronde (Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 classic which for the first 20 years of its life was deemed too explicit for a public audience), explores power and desire in our modern world of sexual liberty.

La Ronde follows the interwoven lives and loves of 14 Londoners, played by a cast of four: Leemore Marrett Jr, Lauren Samuels, Alexander Vlahos and Amanda Wilkin. For the audience’s titillation, the characters are cast live onstage with the spin of a giant roulette wheel before each scene. Both a neat illustration of the chance nature of attraction, and a dramatic lead-in to each encounter, the wheel is beautiful idea.

However, in reality the wheel itself is rickety and fickle, casting Marrett Jr only once in the final scene. And, despite valiant and versatile performances from the other three (Samuels plays a Russian cleaner, an American actor and British consultant with clarity and conviction), the relationships thrown together by the wheel appear shallow and undeveloped. First dates and one night stands get away with it, but a scene following two estranged siblings rings hollow and false.

Wheel aside, there is a lot to like about this piece. The writing delivers a surprisingly on-key rendering of modern Londoners’ syntax and the dialogue is sparky. The drama is punctuated by verbatim musings on sex, sexual experiences, memories and confessions by real-life Londoners. The echoes of these recordings are scrawled in chalk on a huge blackboard which covers the entire rear wall, making an effective counterpoint to the comedic lilt of the action.

Having seen just one of the alleged 3,000 potential shows, I took home a sex-positive, kink-positive, queer-positive impression of La Ronde. Go another night and you might see frustratingly heteronormative scenes played out, with predictable sexual dynamics and some mild BDSM action. Whichever combination of actors you see, though, La Ronde will remain a fascinating exploration of the interplay between money and power, life and death, love and sex in this writhing mass of a city.

Reviewed by Annabel Mellor
Photo: Ray Burmiston

La Ronde plays at the Bunker Theatre until 11 March 2017