Sunday, 1 September 2019

REVIEW: Hello Again at the Union Theatre

Arthur Schnitzler wrote his provocative exploration of a sexual merry go round in 1897 and each coupling was set in the same Victorian time period. It challenged the attitudes and morals of the time where class differences and status were the way of life. Michael John La Chiusa has taken the basic ten scene structure and set it to music but played with the time periods so they now span one hundred years from 1900 to 1999. In doing so he tries to update how the nature of love and lust has changed since the original play was written. With a cast of ten, each playing two scenes as in the original, Paul Callen brings this new take on the play to the small Union Theatre but it does not work.

The jumps in time periods back and forth, and references to Pearl Harbour (1942), Titanic (1912) and Vietnam war (1965), create a curious nightmarish images where the original linkages of one person in successive scenes are lost as they are replaced by similar roles linked by repeated phrases in the lyrics. The result is confusing, illogical and unsatisfactory and the only explanation appears to me to be that it is all a dream of sexual guilt by an older man in his nineties? It offers nothing by way of commentary on the way the world has changed over 100 years or the differences between love and lust. Most of the scenes seem to be loveless couplings of rather sad unappealing characters.

It may have made more sense if I could have heard all the words but the three piece band set stage right with MD Henry Brennan on piano seemed too loud and overwhelmed some of the vocals. The tunes La Chiusa has written have elements of musical references for each time period but were generally a forgettable mix of songs that Sondheim might have rejected before getting into workshop.

One has to have sympathy for the cast, not only because of the material they are working with is simply not good enough but they have to compete with the rumbling of trains overhead and on the preview I saw a fire alarm mid Act 2 due to too much lighting haze! There was very little light relief to brighten the scenes and at times the audience was better lit than cast. The lighting is simple with washes of red when a sexual act is being performed in the shadows and a bank of audience blinders signalling the end of a scene and of course a lot of haze.

Alice Ellen Wright plays a nurse in 1942 seeking love from a soldier going to war and another in 1965 taking advantage of her patent presumably reflecting the post war "make love not war" ethos. However Grace Robert, young wife , performing an oral sex act in a cinema on a young lover in 1936 may have been "morally corrupt" but clearly was not enjoying her "greatest adventure " with her loveless husband in 1952. 

The 1976 sketch is about film making with George Whitty as a writer in a gay
relationship with calls to "cut" and "a close up" but it all seems random with references to a shipwreck (surely not the one in the scene before of 1912) before being followed by a 1923 film director bowing to pressure from his actress for rewrites. As she says " This piece of sh*t is killing me".

The last two scenes see a senator, David Pendlebury, having an affair with an actress in 1985 and then calling a prostitute for phone sex in 1999. He looks like he is the same senator in both scenes, unlike the proceeding scenes where the characters don't appear to be same person so it feels like it might be his nightmare - a politician frightened to be caught out by his sexual past bringing the story up to date and relevant. As he sings " My dream was not my own, Someone dreamed with me". 

La Ronde was a provocative and original play but despite the best efforts of the cast to breathe life into this revised material, the end result was tame and insipid and failed to entertain or cast any fresh light on the nature of love. 

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★

Seat : Row B | Price of Ticket: £22
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