3000 possibilities: Staging La Ronde for the 21st century

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Max Gill has adapted and directs a bold reimagining of Arthur Schnitzler’s classic LA RONDE, which starts performances at The Bunker this weekend…

The original LA RONDE has a provocative allure; a portrait of Viennese society in 1897 depicted through the sex lives of the city’s inhabitants. I am not the first to be be drawn to the seductive simplicity of the play’s structure: a man and a woman meet, they have sex, and we see the aftermath. It presents the human need for another and the insatiable beast of desire inside us all as if it were written yesterday.

Part of the play’s genius is that Schnitzler does not describe the act of sex in any stage directions, instead marking it with asterisks. This engages a reader or performer’s imagination; the dirtiest text there is. However, the world of the original is of course, of its time. It presents a Victorian attitude to the body, sexuality and gender that for a modern audience is at best old-fashioned, at worst sexist and heteronormative.

So I decided to take Schnitzler’s ingenious structure and place it upon the beating heart of contemporary sexuality in London with its breadth of opportunity. But where to start in a world of kaleidoscopic possibility?

With the people doing it in all its various forms, of course. Over three months, I trawled through London interviewing everyone from sex workers, adulterers, fetishists, lovers to the desperately bored and married, asking them about their sex lives. Their testimonies formed inspiration for scenes and characters in the play, and some of them feature in the show itself.

Power and fantasy are at the core of everyone’s carnal experiences, and it is this interplay that constructs our sexual identities: masks and personas as theatrical as any character in a play. How then to represent the sexual ‘acting’ we all execute on stage? And in a world where gender boundaries and expectations are thankfully (for now, at least) blurring?

The script of our LA RONDE is stripped of any markers that point to a character’s gender, sexuality, age or appearance so that they can be performed by each member of the cast, either male or female. The couples are selected each scene by our own embodiment of ‘La Ronde’: a wheel of fortune that represents the blindness of desire and the caprice of fate.

This means that there are over three thousand possible realisations of the play, each very different from the other.

Each asks you to confront your own prejudices: how might a scene between a bus driver and a prostitute surprise when it is between two women? Characters might behave in a gendered way in the text in that they may be ‘passive’ or ‘active’, ‘dominant’ or ‘submissive’, ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’; we want to explore how far these labels are attached to any physical reality at all. After all, no-one is born male or female in terms of their character.

Every actor must, of course, know every part and be able to transform their characterisation depending on whom they are opposite. This has meant that rehearsals have been a new and vigorous challenge.

I hope that our production of LA RONDE will surprise and embolden our audience; be the person you want to be, don’t be afraid of what you want, and own every decision you make, because you never know which way the wheel may turn.

LA RONDE runs at the The Bunker from 11 February to 11 March 2018. Follow @MyTheatreMates on Twitter for details on our competition to win a pair of tickets to the show.

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Guest Bloggers on Twitter
Guest Bloggers
MyTheatreMates welcomes submissions from guest bloggers and other occasional contributors, including theatremakers commenting on aspects of their shows. Please email your suggestions to Mates co-founder Terri Paddock or submit them via our Contact Us page.

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