I never like sitting in the front row of an audience. There’s too high a risk of being plucked out of the crowd for a fun (read: terrifying) bit of audience participation. I was therefore more than happy to give up my chair to allow a group of friends to all sit together in the danger seats and retreat to the row behind to watch Sonja Linden’s Roundelay.
This proved a wise decision, as Clare Perkins took no prisoners as our compère The Ringmistress, who delighted in teasing and bantering with unsuspecting audience members on the front row. Perkins was superb in her vital role in which she introduced each of the seven stories that make up Roundelay, a vibrant remodelling of Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 play La Ronde.
In a similar vein to the original production, Roundelay is built upon the themes of love, sex, and the nature of relationships. The key difference here stems from the involvement of the production company Visible, who work with older actors from a diverse range of backgrounds to produce theatre that transcends age. Accordingly, Roundelay concentrates upon the romantic experiences of older people.
Through the use of seven intertwined scenes, Roundelay explores the many different types of love that exist, from former lovers meeting again for the first time, to the strong friendship of a lodger and his landlady, right through to a devoted husband caring for his wife who lives with dementia (a masterful performance from Holly De Jong).
Each of these seven scenes is divided by a brief interlude of circus performance, with the actors doing double duty, wowing the audience with displays of juggling, somersaults, and hula hoop tricks. Anna Simpson caught the eye the most though, with her daring aerial silk displays, which left the watching crowd spellbound. Whilst the show’s venue was fittingly intimate, with the audience seated in the round, these routines helped to provide a big top feel to the Southwark Playhouse. All of these sections were sound-tracked by the wonderfully impressive Ru Hamilton, who casually swapped between a multitude of instruments throughout.
As writer Sonja Linden pointed out in the post-show interview, Roundelay already defies expectation by allowing older actors to play roles other than that of a character living with dementia. Yet the play subverts in a number of other ways too. Scene seven – entitled “Tinder” – shows that not only are many older people utilising technology with ease, they are doing so to form relationships in later life.
The scene goes further still: Upon hearing that her father (John Moraitis) has met his partner online, his daughter (Simpson) pointedly suggests that his new girlfriend (Doreene Blackstock) will surely move into his plush London apartment. Yet this perception of the new partner as a “gold digger” is turned on its head immediately, when her father indicates that it is in fact he who will be moving into his girlfriend’s flat – a far nicer property in the centre of the city.
This willingness to reject established tropes was perhaps best encapsulated by the scene in which guilt-ridden Chris (Roger Alborough) struggles to come to terms with his sexuality. Yet when he refers to his younger companion Daniel (Elan James) as “gay”, he is quickly informed that this is not the case, and that Daniel is happy to live his life without any labels. It was certainly refreshing to hear sexuality discussed in this way on stage.
Yet there were routine displays of love and lust too, most notably Ann Firbank’s brilliant turn as Evelyn, a widow who has embraced her right to chase happiness in the years after her husband’s passing. This leads to a poignant dream sequence in which the late Frank (Vincenzo Nicoli) visits Evelyn and they do nothing more than live out the perfect Sunday morning together.
An eclectic display of the many forms of love and relationships, Roundelay was a vibrant and fast-paced show which was a real pleasure to watch. Make sure to keep an eye out for Visible’s future productions!