The Bunker, London – until 11 March 2017
Last year, Elon Musk suggested it’s likely that our entire existence is a computer simulation made by some highly evolved species. The simulation might be programmed randomly, or might not. Max Gill’s La Ronde gives credence to the idea that our lives are dictated by a power higher than ourselves. This production is bravely dictated by randomness, with a large wheel choosing the order of the scenes and which characters encounter each other. With such a prominent feature, the unknown is thrilling but the end result is one of cold machination, much like a game show. This modern update often feels stilted, restrained by some clumsy dialogue and overly stereotypical characters, though the chance encounters with little emotional connection bear an unsettling resemblance to casual sex in the digital world.
The cast of four are an equal gender split and ethnically diverse, a relief to see after a week of totally white, male heavy shows. And they’re good, too. Despite the unpredictable nature of the piece, they never falter and play a wide range of characters, though due to the scenes’ brevity they are painted with broad strokes. One of the actors gets significantly less stage time than the other three due to the wheel’s dictum and whilst this is unfortunate, it’s one of the given risks of the format.
Frankie Bradshaw’s design dominates the stage with the large wheel on the back wall. The rest of the set is functional and generic, the unremarkable furnishings in the flat of a one-night stand. It’s versatile and utilitarian, and not distracting. Bradshaw’s lighting is sophisticated and slick, creating the effect of a tv show with a live studio audience. This metatheatricality integrates well with Gill’s concept and transitions.
Though the design is the highlight of the production, the script is inconsistent. Some of the characters are more detailed, some generic. Some of the language is fluidly modern, some sounds dated and sits uncomfortably with the actors. This stylistic clumsiness is distracting, made even more so by overly chaste sex acts. For a play that’s all about sex, the shapeless tracksuits and plain underwear that never comes off clashes with the informality and casualness of the encounters. There’s a notable absence of unrestrained abandon that comes with casual encounters and feels entirely too reserved and clean.
Gill’s concept is certainly a worthy experiment, but it’s not without its flaws. The stronger choices are negated by the inconsistency of the text and staging, and the overall effect is one of a machine that doesn’t quite fit together. The randomness does a lot for creating tension, but that isn’t maintained by the staging.