Roundelay, a series of vignettes on love and sex in the third age, is a show of many parts. On the one hand, it is tightly spun web of interlinked stories and voices, all essentially asking the same question: how do we age without letting go of parts of what make us human? On the other, it is a piece of physical theatre, which asks a different question: what happens when our minds want to do what our bodies cannot? Despite these disparate concerns, it is a cohesive piece of theatre, but one which unfortunately unravels somewhat throughout its 90-minute duration.
The show begins with the Ringmistress (Clare Perkins) kicking off proceedings with a bang. This character acts a kind of framing device, who brings the audience through the work’s seven acts. This is, presumably, intended to create a dramatic unity to the piece, which it does indeed achieve, but at certain points the Ringmistress is an unwelcome distraction. However expertly Perkins commands the stage, the forced banter and unnecessary asides intrude more than they add.
The main bulk of the performance is a series of interlinked stories on sexuality and aging. There is Adam (John Moraitis) and Bette (Holly de Jong), former husband and wife who meet at a wedding after 18 years; or Frank (Vincenzo Nicoli) and Gina (Doreene Blackstock) who have found love on Tindr. They cover such hefty themes as Alzheimer’s, infidelity, latent homosexuality, death, loneliness, deportation and jealousy in a truly thoughtful and affecting way. As a whole it functions well, even if some of the plot twists feel too facile or predictable.
The acts are broken up by pieces of physical theatre, which are delivered with varying degrees of success. The gymnastics of Elan James and Anna Simpson are astonishing, but the rest of the cast’s prancing and cavorting starts to feel a little extraneous as the performance continues. It also has the effect of making the older members of the cast look a touch ridiculous and even a little redundant in comparison with the younger, more lithe members; which surely goes against the ethos of the production?
As a piece of social drama the play certainly achieves its aim. It is able to probe the issues that older people face, most critically in terms of sexuality and personal relationships, in a way that opens up the issue to wider debate. It does this in a visually appealing and conceptually arresting way, but unnecessary distractions obscure what is, at its core, a strong production.
Roundelay is playing at the Southwark Playhouse until March 18.
Photo: John Haynes