IT can only be an encouraging sign when someone gets up and leaves a theatre just five minutes into a play and another handful don’t come back after the interval.
La Ronde has its comic moments but the muttering of some members of the audience had me grinning as much as anything that was said or done on the stage. “Oh Holy God no!” was the most notable exclamation of the night as it became clear that two male actors were about to kiss on stage.
La Ronde was written in 1900 by Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler but was not performed for another 20 years when it caused a riot and aroused personal anti-Semitic attacks on the author. There were no ‘gay scenes’ in the original production in which all the interactions was strictly heterosexual so God knows what its critics in the 1920s would have made of the production performed at Downpatrick Arts Centre on Saturday night.
There are 10 separate sexual encounters in the La Ronde between The Whore and The Soldier, The Soldier and The Parlour Maid, The Parlour Maid and The Young Gentleman and so on until the play ends with a final encounter involving a whore once again.
Each encounter explores a different dynamic or aspect of sexual relationships – adultery, exploitation, domination etc. It also explores the theme of sex as a leveller on the various strata of society whereby, for example, the social stations separating The Parlour Maid and The Young Gentleman become irrelevant as they become lovers.
Where this production diverges from the original play, and expands on the original theme, is to subvert the traditional roles and to introduce same-sex encounters.
In the first scene The Whore is a male prostitute and The Soldier is a woman and in the next scene it is the female soldier who makes love to The Parlour Maid – at which point the first member of the audience to depart made his exit. Scene six in the original play is an encounter between ‘The Husband and the Little Miss’ but in this production the Little Miss becomes a Young Sir.
While these same-sex encounters bring a new dimension to the play it does create a narrative flaw to La Ronde in which the final encounter is between The Count and The Whore – but this whore is female as opposed to the male prostitute we saw at the start.
La Ronde translates as ‘the circle’ and I think the intention was to complete the circle by having the 10 characters all linked to one another through sex, but then maybe I’m being overly pedantic.
This was an excellent, sensual production in which five actors took on the various roles – two female and three male. There was much, stripping and caressing, kissing and toe-sucking, fondling and writhing – however, the actual act of sex was portrayed through a tango – each one different to illustrate the different dynamics between the various couples.
The tangos were danced to the background of classic punk and new wave songs played in a Bossa Nova style – Love Will Tear Us Apart (Joy Division), Teenage Kicks (Undertones), Heart of Glass (Blondie) This Is Not A Love Song (Public Image Ltd) and even Too Drunk to Fuck (The Dead Kennedys). At the time I though it would make a great soundtrack and only after we got home and Sinead did a bit of online research did we discover that it was all the work of a French group called Nouvelle Vague.
The production was by a theatre group called Love & Madness, who brought a production Shakespeare’s The Tempest to the same venue last year which also involved a lot of highly stylised choreography. Hopefully they’ll be back again next year.