Hope Theatre – until 7 November 2015
Knickers, bras and other vintage undergarments (oh my!) dangle from the Hope Theatre ceiling in dim light, the discarded ghosts of sexual encounters long past. Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 Reigen, or La Ronde as it is more commonly known from the French translation, is reinvented in musical form in Michael John LaChiusa’s early 1990s Hello Again.
Not content with the original story, LaChiusa spreads Schnitzler’s shags, blowjobs and wanks over the 21st century, updates some of the characters, includes gay relationships and adds a nearly continuous score mostly of duets, with musical influences from a host of eras. The sex is seen rather than just talked about, but otherwise Schnitzler’s format is replicated. Five actors each takes two characters and accompanied by a solitary keyboard, create an intimately filthy but strangely moving chamber musical in one of London’s newest pub theatres.
Hello Again, though titillating, also looks at the desire for sexual satisfaction through entirely unromantic, desperate scenarios. In ten short scenes, we see an array of social classes, professions and sexualities get their jollies before they run out of time; there’s the married housewife in her affair with a student, the soldier and the nurse before he ships out and the gentleman and cabin boy on the sinking Titanic amongst others. One-off and long-running relationships are accompanied by a range of musical styles on a bare bones set, but the minimalism means nothing is held back and it’s practically in your lap if you’re in the front row. Though there’s plenty of bonking, little is seen – a bum here, cleavage there; the acts themselves are staged realistically rather than stylized or hinted at by director Tania Azevedo. In our porno-fied modern culture where hardcore images and video are a couple of clicks away, to show the grunting and thrusting act without the bits strikes an interesting balance between honesty and discretion. With the audience split over three sides, more diagonals could have been used in the staging to improve sightlines for everyone, but otherwise the small space with no backstage is used well.
LaChiusa keeps the scenes short, but this enhances the immediacy and primal nature of sex. There are some good numbers, but the hodge podge of styles prevents much in the way of recurring motifs. The settings and characters are clear and believable, though their brevity needs the characters to get to the point quickly. As we don’t really get to know these people before us, they become an everyman of their character type: they are us, and we could easily be them. The ensemble cast is consistently good, with newcomer Isabella Messarra and veteran Miles Western giving the most striking vocal performances. Messarra’s Nurse is a wonderful force that literally dominates the posh student she cares for, Western is the smug senator exploiting a beautiful but lonely film star.
This is an excellent and largely faithful adaption of Schnitzler’s play that doesn’t shy away from explicitly prurient moments all sexual human beings can relate to. LaChiusa’s characters speak to all of us, even if his music is less satisfying. Azevedo’s direction and multi-roll casting suits the piece, as the intimate venue fits this infrequently staged and rarely seen musical.
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