Roundelay at Southwark Playhouse
Life is a circus, and love can run rings around us. Based on the 1897 play La Ronde by Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler – known once upon a time for its shocking sexual content – Rounderlay is a new production that tells seven stories about love: falling in, being in, sex and relationships and how they break down and spark up. There is a twist, though: it is staged by theatre company Visible, which looks to challenge preconceptions of what it means to be old in order to create provocative and innovative theatre. Therefore, the tales in this show are all about love for people who are over 50. What do love and sex mean when you get older?
Playwright Sonja Linden’s idea to twin a set of love stories that might not have been out of place in Play for Today with a sexy circus backdrop and a desire to explore what relationships mean after youth is a mad type of genius. Her script is like Love Actually if it were written by David Lynch.
The ensemble cast are superb: Annie Firbank’s Evelyn is a touching and frankly marvellous performance, considering that the woman is in her mid-80s; Elan James as the youthful immigrant, Daniel, provides a crucial link between one generation and the other, exploring the role of the man unable to lead the life he would choose; Vincenzo Nicoli’s Middle England man with a bit on the side gives an empathetic perspective to a character normally only seen as a two-dimensional hate figure in TV soaps. But it is Clare Perkins’s Ringmistress who pulls the threads of this play through the needle and makes it something special. As a compère her knowing sass can be irritable, but seen as an integral part of the plot – as she should be – she becomes the phosphorescent crux of the production.
For 90 minutes of performance time, which divided by seven is something of a whip round, Roundelay packs in an awful lot and leaves little wanting. It lacks the tightness and polish of a West End performance but this allows the show to conduct its experiment in the best way; the theatrical experience feels more immediate and real because of it. And more than that, in an age where we have broken down almost all barriers, Roundelay still takes risks and confronts the eternal taboo of how it often sucks to get old.
Roundelay is at Southwark Playhouse from 23rd February until 18th March 2017, for further information or to book visit here.