November 2014 – The Circle



Reviewed by Peter Steptoe

Regarded by many as W Somerset Maugham’s best play; this comedy of manners also comes under the heading of ‘well made’.

The characters were wealthy and the set should demonstrate this and Parlour Players’ set was sumptuous. Maugham has often been described as a heartless writer but in this he showed surprising warmth.

This play can enthral and though originally performed in 1921 has a certain relevance to the present day. The cast performed beautifully, holding our interest, engaging our sympathy and making us laugh at their witticisms.  Elizabeth (Jane Monaghan) was the bored wife of priggish Arnold Champion- Cheyney M.P. (Michael Cooke) and had fallen in love with Edward Luton (Joe Crisfield) a Planter on leave from the Federal Malay States. Arnold’s mother Kittty (Sue Rider) had some thirty years before run off with Lord Porteous (Ron White). They had been invited for the week-end and to add to the confusion Arnold’s father, Clive (Chris Bishop) also turned up.

We see how Kitty had held on desperately without marriage to Lord Porteous as her beauty faded and their mutual recriminations gave pleasure to her ex husband Clive whose oleaginous nature became apparent. Will Elizabeth repeat the error of Kitty, if indeed it was an error, was the essence of the play?

Kate Nash as Anna Shenstone had a make up the numbers part, which seemed to be only for plot advancement and Ian Mess as the Butler had the necessary gravitas for ‘yes sir’.

Highlights for me were the irascibility of Porteus when playing Bridge and then Patience; Clive’s knowing smile; Arnold’s priggishness shown in constant recently purchased antique chair adjustment; Elizabeth’s indecision, ‘will she, won’t she’; Edward’s love declaration in the form of a business meeting and Kitty’s scatter brained chatter.

Director Chris Hearn deserved credit for marshalling his cast and ensuring that his audience were never bored.