Round and round and round we go, Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde has inspired many an adaptation, so much so that the Hope Theatre’s Hello Again can’t even boast of being the only one on Upper Street (F**king Men at the King’s Head newly extending into December). But it is the only musical version there, Michael John LaChiusa crafting the daisy chain of sexual encounters into a song cycle that moves from decade to decade just as much as it does from bed to bed.
The show is made up of 10 two-handers, connected by one character remaining in the next scene, so first we have The Whore and The Soldier, then The Soldier and The Nurse, The Nurse and The College Boy and so on until The Senator and The Whore completes the cycle. But the timeline is played non-chronologically, the characters aren’t necessarily the same person from scene to scene, the only real connection is the multitude of ways in which sex is used and abused in our daily lives, no matter how sexuality is perceived in that particular age.
Directed by Tania Azevedo for Play Pen Productions, Hello Again shines as a strong piece of musical theatre. LaChiusa’s compositional style is notoriously challenging (as recently witnessed in See What I Wanna See) but the eclectic nature of the score – with over a century of musical influences to draw on – works in its favour, reflecting the scattered narrative. MD Daniel Jarvis brings colour too both from his playing and from arrangements which occasionally fold in additional voices to the songs.
And as the merry-go-round goes round, commonalities do appear – the longing for some kind of connection in a brutal world, the return to sex as a last hurrah in times of crisis, the unthinking behaviour that can characterise mismatched libidos. It isn’t the cheeriest of pieces to be sure, there’s little sex here for pleasure but what there is is a defiantly non-romanticised picture of carnal relations for both men and women and what they mean to humanity at large.
Each actor takes on two of the roles and they’re all delineated expertly, especially in the immediate scene changes – Thea Jo Wolfe is superb as The Young Wife (her solo number is the show’s strongest musical number) whether with playing with college kids in a cinema or trapped by a repressed husband, Joshua Leclair’s instant switch from third class Titanic passenger to 70s gay clubber is wryly done, and Miles Western, Isabella Messarra and Adam Colbeck-Dunn also impress.
The show is never truly explicit, heaving bosoms and a couple of butt-cheeks aside, but it is surprisingly, pleasingly, frank about the darker side of sex and desire in all its irrationality and irresistible nature. And with Andrea Marsden’s inventive set making things even more intimate (I haven’t been that close to a stripping woman in, well, forever!), it’s worth saying hello to Hello Again.