until 3rd Feb
Currently playing at the Chichester Festival Theatre is Somerset Maugham’s 1921 play The Circle. A romantic comedy of manners peppered with his trademark insights into human frailty, containing a large slice of similarities with his own life, and all alongside his customary wit.
The play is set over a long weekend at the Dorset residence of MP Arnold Champion-Cheney where his bored young wife Elizabeth has invited her husband’s estranged mother and partner to visit. Arnold has never truly got over the fact that his mother Lady Kitty, a society beauty, left him and his father to elope with the handsome Lord Porteous 30 years ago. To complicate matters Arnold’s father has turned up unexpectedly to stay for a few days in his cottage in the grounds of the estate, and is intent on causing mischief. Elizabeth, however, is wrestling with her own feelings for their rather dashing young house guest Teddie. Could history be about to be repeated by a similar scenario, bringing things full circle?
Director Tom Littler (Artistic Director of the Orange Tree Theatre Richmond) has remained faithful to the original play for this revival. Using a basic set and stylish gowns, this strong cast transport us back to an elegant drawing room where uncomfortable reunions and emotional struggles threaten to destroy the equilibrium.
Pete Ashmore admirably inhabits the serious character of Arnold, a budding interior designer with a penchant for classic furniture but not strong on emotions and quite unaware of his wife’s utter boredom. Olivia Vinall plays his spirited, sentimental wife Elizabeth (Champion-Cheney), already weary of her dull life in the country, hence so easily seduced by their charismatic guest played by Daniel Burke (Edward ‘Teddie’ Luton). Jane Asher (Lady Catherine ‘Kitty’ Champion-Cheney) and Nicholas Le Prevost (Lord ‘Hughie’ Porteous) excel as the bickering older couple, though they do still retain a tender spark for each other at times. Hughie is now a cantankerous old man with ill fitting teeth and Lady Kitty feels totally trapped in this relationship, as she is ostracized by society for her infidelity. A highly confident performance from Clive Francis (Clive Champion-Cheney) formally the injured party but now thoroughly enjoying numerous liaisons with young women aged 20-25!
Beautifully paced, the whole cast give masterful performances in this winning blend of scandalous conduct and family dilemmas. Refreshing too seeing a capacity audience for this compelling drama. An astutely observed production that comes highly recommended and continues to tour for a further 3 weeks.
Reviewer: Jill Lawrie