Venue: Coronation Hall (Newtown NSW), Jul 2 – 12, 2014
Writer: Arthur Schnitzler
Director: Steven Hopley
Cast: Amy Scott-Smith, Peter Jamieson, Alison Lee Rubie, Jasper Garner Gore, Emily Elise, Leigh Scully, Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou, Brendon Taylor, Amanda Maple-Brown, Jaymie Knight
Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde was written over a hundred years ago. It is mainly about sex, but it is also about hypocrisy, deception and promiscuity. Not everything in the play has stood the test of time, which is an excellent signifier that the sexual revolution had successfully propelled civilisation forward. Schnitzler’s writing has an aura of scandal and taboo about the sex that happens in every scene, but this feels antiquated and childish by today’s standards. Fortunately, the text contains plenty more to explore that is timeless and universal.
Steven Hopley’s direction is straightforward, but the decision to stage the work, theatre-in-the-round, is a highlight. The intimacy he creates is fascinating. We are a fly on the wall, privy to the secret lives and exposed bodies of these comedic fornicators. We only see what happens before and after sex acts, of course, but Hopley manages to light up enough libidinal fire between actors so that we experience something quite unusual. It is certainly not everyday that we feel tension and energy of this nature without being a direct participant. The most entertaining feature of the show however, is its comedy. Hopley identifies the play’s irony well, but how effectively the laughs are delivered, depends largely on the proficiency of the players, which varies wildly on this stage. The director’s approach is too gentle. These characters inhabit a bawdy world, but the production is polite. Even though we do see some skin, and people kiss a lot, there is never a sense of transgression, which one would argue is necessary for dealing with taboo subjects.
With a flamboyance that is indulgent and delicious, Amanda Maple-Brown steals the show as The Actress. She has pitched her performance at just the right tone for the material, and the laughter she inspires is quite euphoric. The dramatic transformation of personality in two short scenes cannot be more extreme, but Maple-Brown is entirely convincing. Her performance is intelligent and brave, and the chemistry she creates with both her bedfellows is as madcap as it is sizzling. Also memorable is Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou as The Sweet Girl. The actor has marvelous presence, and delivers a surprisingly truthful performance. She can appear over earnest at times, which can obscure some funny lines, but the conflicting qualities of innocence and lust that define her character are balanced well. Brendon Taylor as The Writer is dynamic and precise. It is good to see him enjoy a joke about Belvoir as much as we do. Leigh Scully is a little coy in his portrayal of The Husband, but the energy he brings to the stage is valuable. His animated physicality provides a theatricality to a show that is sometimes oddly tranquil.
La Ronde does not comment on the implications of promiscuity. It merely puts it on display. We observe deception at every turn, but the production is not antagonistic towards any of its characters. The hypocrisy we recognise is infuriating, but that emotion is not imposed upon us. There are many ingredients that could be added to make the show a spicier experience, but what it serves up is clearly hot enough.