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The Theatreguide.London Review

Gate Theatre        February-March 2009

Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde is a classic study in sexual politics. In a string of short scenes A sleeps with B, and then B with C, and so on, until we find our way back to A again.

In the process Schnitzler comments on not only sex, but broader social topics, as master sleeps with servant, military man with civilian, and the like.

Alexandra Wood's short play applies Schnitzler's structure to 21st-century Britain, including in the chain such figures as a rock star idly seducing a woman just because he can, a couple trying to make a baby, and an ambitious intern going after her boss.

Her broader insight is that in almost no case is sexual desire the real issue.

Sex for these characters in this age is a convenient vehicle for exercising power, expressing anger, achieving ambitions or giving or seeking comfort - and as such, it may be intense, but it is rarely very personal.

The printed text of the play would probably run no more than a half-hour, but for this first production director Natalie Abrahami has fleshed it out to 50 minutes through an inventive stratagem. All the actual sexual encounters have been replaced by dances, and Abrahami has cast two dancers-who-act rather than actors-who-dance, Gemma Higginbotham and Darren Ellis, to play all the roles.

To an evocative musical score by Tom Mills, Ugo Dehaes has choreographed a string of sensual movement sequences (built, inevitably, on a lot of carrying and writhing) that are beautiful in themselves and communicate the real emotions beneath the sex, be they passion, anguish, anger or cold-blooded manipulation.

The two dancers evoke more of a sense of their characters through these interpolated sequences than they are able to do in the brief dialogue scenes, making this one of those rare cases when an inventive director actually improves on a script by altering it.

Gerald Berkowitz

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