Bringing a modern flavour to a classic piece of writing (whether a novel, poem or play) is no mean feat, but sometimes those well-worn pages need a bit of dusting off and ridding of cobwebs. Luckily, the Vault Festival grants a variety of companies the chance to put their own spin on the old and overly familiar. That’s just what young playwright and performer Florence Keith-Roach has chosen to attempt with her disco-infused updating of Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde. Love to Love to Love You’s slightly unwieldy title makes perfect sense as soon as a certain dancefloor staple comes booming through the speakers, and it’s a clever notion to match the physicality of dance with La Ronde’s exploration of a whole different sort of body movement.
There’s no getting round it – this is a show about sex: sometimes sensual, often messy and complicated, and capturing all the awkward, electric energy of first encounters between people of varying ages and experience levels. A listless mimed rendition of the titular song introduces us to The Gigolo, played by Ed Digby-Jones as a louche, casually scornful demi-god, and his backing dancers – recurring archetypes Destiny (Kurtis Okasi) and Chastity (Luke Thompson). From there we shimmy our way through a succession of liaisons between the interconnected cast of six. The piece has a suitably strong, steady rhythm to it and its own satisfyingly circular structure, though at times this does lead to a vague sense of déjà-vu, with the script lacking any major tonal shifts.
It’s perhaps a result of a performance time (6.30 pm) that doesn’t exactly lend itself to daring displays of flesh and passion, but Love to Love to Love You never manages to be all that risqué or challenging, in its fairly conventional view of heterosexual relationships. It is nonetheless an entertaining production, thanks to the majority of its performers (most notably Harriet Green as the wide-eyed yet sly Student and Keith-Roach herself as the bolshy, ultimately out of her depth, Teen) bringing an infectious sense of fun to their roles, and relishing the generously scattered moments of humour. On the side of the men, Tom Ross-Williams comes across as most comfortable with his caricature of a role (The Personal Trainer) and gets some good laughs from the audience for his pent-up sexual frustration in the face of the more wily women.
Keith-Roach is clearly interested by the power play between men and women, and turns a keen eye on social expectations and double standards at various points over the course of the hour. Overall, the script feels a little constricted by its classification as a comedy – a few darker moments might have been welcome. The only true hints of something below the surface come from the Teen’s final encounter with the Gigolo, when she finds herself faced with the frighteningly real consequences of a one-night stand: pregnancy and STDs.
In general, the actors are at their best in the play’s most physical moments, whether abruptly grinding to a halt in the throes of passion during the scene between The Teen and The Artist, or the Student’s purportedly innocent demonstration of her gymnastic ability with the Personal Trainer. They are most confident and flamboyant of all in the dance breaks between scenes, which made me wonder if the show could do with more dancing and less dialogue, but once they’ve settled into their roles a little more I expect them to bring more of this lively energy to their acting too. Considering I saw what amounted to a dress rehearsal, there was admirably little line-fluffing, and the technical aspects of the show were handled seamlessly by stage manager Maud Dromgoole. The costumes (designed by Lily Ashley) were a particularly amusing highlight – the actors all wear white, with holes cut out of multiple sections of their clothing: a cheeky reflection of the characters’ casual attitude towards sex.
Love to Love to Love You is a solid examination of flirtation and flings, and an enticing glimpse of what Keith-Roach is capable of as both writer and actor. Supported by a cast who will undoubtedly have improved throughout the run as they loosen up and embrace the ridiculous side of the show more, she is certainly one to watch: as is this show.