The Circle by Somerset Maugham at Richmond Theatre | Review

A drawing room drama doesn’t quite hit the mark, The Circle gives quaint new meaning while remaining underwhelming in substance.
The Circle by Somerset Maugham at Richmond Theatre

All parties are present, we are in an elegant country estate, a young married couple a dashing young traveller, and a mischievous old man set on righting ancient wrongs. You might be forgiven for thinking that this is a long-forgotten Oscar Wilde piece, but sadly is it not.

The critical component that seems to be neither here nor there is that exquisite Oscar Wilde wit. The piece opens to the drawing room of the Champion-Cheney estate, where young Elizabeth and her less young husband Arnold are preparing for the arrival of his mother and stepfather, who terminated his father’s political career by eloping. Tension arises as Arnold’s father inserts himself into an already uneasy spring afternoon, but eventually, this subsides. It is then that the real conflict of the play becomes clear, Elizabeth is in love with her husband’s best friend and plans to elope, just as Arnold’s mother did to his father.

What struggles with this script is that it is a little trite. Initially, there was a sense of a quite neatly composed satire on British country life. However, the play continues in rather twee form. Jokes are staid, and the piece is roundly quite unadventurous, so when the conflict of the piece comes around the lack of conviction and boldness left me rather unmoved by the affair.

Performances are a mixed bag. Some feel like a caricature of themselves, and others might be quite good, but feel hemmed in by a bland script. That being said, the standout performance is undoubtedly Clive Francis as the elder Champion-Cheney, a man whose life may not have come to much, but does entertain an audience who are at moments in the palm of his hand. He shuffles around the stage with a certain charm, mocking, jibing and making the occasional Wilde-ian quip.

When you sit back and let yourself enjoy this for what it is, there is certainly an enjoyable evening at hand. That being said, I did not find much in this that roused me. The drawing room drama can be absurd, brilliant, and joyously witty; this certainly had its moments, but maybe not quite enough


Review by Tom Carter

Will history come full circle? Or can one generation learn from their parents’ mistakes?
Jane Asher (Alfie, Deep End) plays Lady Kitty, a society beauty who notoriously abandoned her stuffy husband Clive (Clive Francis, The Crown), and eloped with the handsome Lord Porteous (Nicholas Le Prevost, Shakespeare in Love, Testament of Youth).

Thirty years later, love’s young dream has descended into non-stop squabbling… Meanwhile Clive and Lady Kitty’s son Arnold (Pete Ashmore, The Lovely Bones) faces the same marital fate, as his wife Elizabeth (Olivia Vinall King Lear, Othello, National Theatre) threatens to elope with the dashing Teddie Luton.

Somerset Maugham’s sparky comedy of manners was first staged in 1921 and has remained a firm favourite with audiences ever since. Maugham was among the most successful novelists and playwrights of the inter -war years. Many of his novels, including The Painted Veil, Theatre, Up At The Villa and Of Human Bondage have been adapted for the screen.

Theatre Royal Bath Productions present
The Orange Tree Theatre production of
Directed by Tom Littler

Jane Asher – Lady Catherine ‘Kitty’ Champion-Cheney
Clive Francis – Clive Champion-Cheney
Nicholas Le Prevost – Lord ‘Hughie’ Porteous
Olivia Vinall – Elizabeth Champion-Cheney
Pete Ashmore – Arnold Champion-Cheney
Robert Maskell – Murray & Understudy Clive Champion-Cheney / Lord ‘Hughie’ Porteous

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