Somerset Maugham’s satirical play, The Circle, first aired in 1921 and a period piece maybe but the shenanigans of today’s top-drawer society can still be found relevant in the marital swapping and lack of commitment and responsibility. Lady Kitty a flighty society beauty chooses heady romance over her dull but dutiful husband Clive, abandoning her child along with him, to fall into the arms of the dashing Lord Porteous. Thirty years later, romance has dimmed and been supplanted by bickering and point-scoring, and to add to this Lady Kitty is witnessing the son she abandoned appearing to be about to suffer the same fate – his wife too wants to elope with a handsome bounder in the shape of Teddie Luton. Hence the title The Circle or maybe we should quote the more modern expression “what goes around comes around”.
Jane Asher, slim and impossibly elegant as always is terrific as Lady Kitty, the nuances of her society position all in place and she delivers the pace of satire and wit with consummate ease. Pete Ashmore as her son, Arnold, is the essence of a dithering and self-absorbed young man, much more interested in the curve of the legs of his antique Sheraton chair than the beauty of his wife’s. The said wife, Elizabeth, played by Olivia Vinall, meanwhile is afire with passion for another, bored of her domestic life and longing to be swept away by reckless emotion. In this production, Clive was played by Robert Maskell who understudies the role and normally plays the butler. What a performance – word perfect and very funny; it would appear that in the intervening years Clive has found solace and amusement in young women and is doing rather well thank you very much. The butler played this time by Gabriel Cagan was a calm presence serving tea with aplomb amidst the emotional fall out.
Nicholas Le Provost has the most fun as Hughie (Lord Porteous) the once dashing young man that caused Lady Kitty’s downfall has turned into a doddering and petulant old man with trouble on all physical fronts but especially with his ill-fitting teeth. His youthful counterpart, Teddie Luton, intent on stealing Arnold’s wife is played by Daniel Burke – he’s very handsome and the vigorous twirl of his tennis racket confirms his deep passion for Elizabeth.
Back in 1921 they didn’t have the Internet and Instagram so they were forced to talk to each other a lot and thrash out their problems which in this case proved very entertaining; there’s an interesting twist at the end and we much enjoyed our foray into the upper crust life of a lost era.
The Circle appears at the Theatre Royal Bath until Saturday 20th January at the start of a UK tour.