Note: Pictures credit Deelan Do (supplied by Metro Arts).
Wheel of Fortune has a number of meanings: a popular American television game show, a tarot card which is apparently interpreted as signifying change, and now the latest play to open at Brisbane’s Metro Arts.
Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 La Ronde, literally translated as “a round dance,” has ten scenes (or duets) between different pairs of lovers, where a character from each scene moves round to be part of the next, until the final pair includes one of the characters from the first pairing. A circular ‘dance’ which challenged the morals of the day when initially published, and which has been used in a number of iterations to continue to explore contemporary moralities and the dance of private (or not so private) lives and relationships. With a first public performance almost 100 years ago, the play continues to inspire creatives, with almost 20 film variations and nearly as many theatrical reinterpretations. The Brisbane Wheel of Fortune is a version written by Richard Jordan, Jacki Mison, Troy Armstrong and Krystal Sweedman (Producer Troy Armstrong and Director Tim Hill), which cleverly integrates audio and visual screen work created by Optic Archive (Joseph Meldrum, Cinematographer & Editor).
As the lights dimmed the play began with film-like credits, featuring an image of the ‘Wheel of Brisbane’ and spiralling camera work that set the scene for a Brisbane Summer evening. Following a woman walking through a public park, the screen (sound and imagery) acted as backdrop for the live action, as The Public Servant (Meg Bowden) calls out “I know you’re there. There’s no use hiding,” to force The American Marine (Richard Lund) to come out of the shadows. With a first sexual encounter that was perhaps not what the audience had initially feared, the screen action then moves to a Brisbane laneway, where the Marine is now outside a Brisbane nightclub with The Au Pair (Jacqui McLaren). The ‘Irish’ Au Pair is then tempted into a poolside encounter with the son of the household (The School Boy, played by Brendan Lorenzo), and the 17-year old boy then has a rendezvous with The Biology Teacher (Jacqui Story), before the Teacher returns home to her husband (The Lawyer/ Ron Kelly). And so we continue to follow each of the changing pairings until the ‘dance’ turns full circle, as The Public Servant and The Politician (Stephen Hirst) watch the sun rise on another new day.
The play combined some really humorous moments with the presentation of a number of confronting encounters. The scene between The Lawyer (Ron Kelly) and The Socialite (Ruby Clark) had When Harry Met Sally resonances which were greatly enjoyed by the first night audience. The strongest pairings in this production were those involving Elise Greig (The Portrait Photographer) and Veronica Neave (The Stage Actress). The seduction of The Politician by Neave’s The Stage Actress was beautifully done, and very funny, creating much laughter on the way to a believable fall from grace. Ruby Clark (The Socialite) was a great foil for Greig’s portrait photography session, which came as close second to what was, for me, the highlight of the Show: the funny and touching encounter between Neave and Greig. I'd love to see more work that brings these two talented actresses together.
A second major highlight was the creation of a blended film/theatrical event. I loved the integration of Optic Archive’s audio and visual work with the ‘live action.’ The screen was not merely a backdrop or set in front of which the work took place but was integral to the whole Show. The switching between the audio/visual and the on-stage actors worked well through the performance—particularly in the scene between Kelly and Story.
In creating a contemporary reworking and production of an established play—particularly in a version which included a representation of one sexual encounter that might be described as rape, and another of a relationship of a school teacher with her student—I would like to have seen more exploration of issues of consent, abuse, and contemporary morality. But it’s great to see a reinterpretation of a classic, particularly as a new Brisbane-based work which employs so many local actors and creatives. Hats off to Metro Arts and TAM Presents for bringing this piece to the stage.
Verdict: It is worth seeing the show to see how well the team have integrated the audio and visual work with the live performance, and for the performances by Neave and Greig alone, but note the rating and advice (the producers suggest 15+, highligting swearing or offensive language, adult themes, partial nudity, smoking or smoke effects, strobe lighting, and the portrayal of physical and emotional abuse).
Audience tip: Arrive early to buy a drink to take into the performance. I believe that the only access to the toilets is upstairs and the Metro Arts lift is still ‘work in progress.’ R (strong sexual references and abuse, sexual imagery & occasional language). 90 minutes.
A short season, so book now if you want to see Wheel of Fortune at The Lumen Room, Metro Arts, Brisbane as the season is only 31 May- 9 June 2018 (remaining shows: 4pm matinees on 2 & 9 June; 7pm shows on 2nd, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th June). Artist talk follows the 6th June performance. Tickets are available at the Metro Arts Website. $28 ($20 concession).
The reviewer attended the Friday 1st June 2018 performance.