When originally performed in 1920, La Ronde was vehemently controversial, even prompting personal and anti-Semitic attacks towards playwright Arthur Schnitzler.
The play is a series of seducing encounters, all of which interlock so we stay with each character for two scenes – the prostitute and the soldier, the soldier and the maid, the maid and the student, and so on. It’s essentially a bed hopping chain reaction all the way up the social ladder and back again, lifting the lid, on the carnal world behind closed doors in 1980 Vienna.
It’s easy to see why the Schnitzler original La Ronde was shocking to a early 1900s audience. However, here in 2015 sex and nudity no longer carry the same taboo, so it is a challenge of contemporary versions of the play to achieve some sense of revealing scandal.
In this production, adapted by Eric Bentley, there are four people on stage. As well as the two leads, we have two characters who aid and abet the scene transitions and also represent the various shenanigans happening on stage with creative assortment of props (a banana, an apple, a train). It’s clever, sometimes funny, but shocking? Not so much. And without a feeling of revelation at this seedy underworld the play can feel a little flat and pointless.
What remains, however, is the cleaver web of relationships which spans class and social boundaries, suggesting that when it comes to the bedroom, everyone is pretty much the same. The two leads play all the characters we meet and do a great job of creating each one (the poet, the married woman, the actress, the count) in the short time they have to work with.
In performance of this play to a contemporary audience, the best moments are when the focus is not necessarily on the relatively un-shocking sex, but instead the ever relevant issues of class, and also on the balance of power in relationships between men and women.
La Ronde is playing at C Nova (Venue 145) from 11-17, 19-31 August as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For more information, please visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.