The Circle ★★★★★ Orange Tree Theatre | Apr 29 - Jun 17, 2023

Somerset Maugham's The Circle deals with a young woman torn between two different paths in life. In the summer of 1920, Elizabeth Champion-Cheney (Olivia Vinall) is facing a choice: continuing with her stolid and rather prim husband, Arnold (Pete Ashmore), or running off with the alluring and ardent entrepreneur, Teddie Luton (Chirag Benedict Lobo). The options are duty, certainty and living in a secure past, or love, tumult and an uncertain future. And, just as Elizabeth is on the cusp of this decision, Arnold's mother (Jane Asher) who in similar circumstances previously left his father for her lover (Nicholas Le Prevost) shows up with said partner. Will Elizabeth see her future in this pair of expatriates and take the safer path or will she run off with her partner? Then, to complicate both her dilemma and the social arrangements for this weekend in the country Arnold's father (Clive Francis) is in residence and is happy to stir things up even further. The Circle is a clever comedy with some pithy insights into human nature. Maugham's sharp wit skewers and exposes human folly, and it is hard to imagine a better production of his work than the present one. All of the cast shine, creating fully rounded characters beneath the brittle repartee. Jane Asher gives an award-worthy performance and her work is well matched by Nicholas Le Prevost and Clive Francis. As the apex of the other triangle, Olivia Vinall also excels while Pete Ashmore is wonderful as her stuffy spouse. As the love interest, Chirag Benedict Lobo is appropriately breezy and impatient. Tom Littler's direction breathes life into Maugham's work, and the mimed opening sequence with its musical accompaniment delightfully sets the tone. Littler exploits the theatre in the round space beautifully, and details like the dog barking as the car comes up the driveway contribute to the credibility of the atmosphere. Throughout, the comic timing is spot on and the pacing is perfect. If you love good theatre, you need to put this production of The Circle in your diary.

Rated: ★★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Ellie Kurttz.

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