The Roundabout ~ Park Theatre, London

The Roundabout stays at The Park Theatre until 24 September 2016:

Star Rating: *****

As the title of J.B. Priestley’s little known piece suggests, this play is a roundabout of a production. It spins the characters and the audience around in circles and leaves you with a smile on your face when the ride comes to an end! Hugh Ross has directed a masterpiece in a glorious space, and I could return to watch this again and again.

The set, being that of a conservatory on the back of an old property, offers a window into the comings, goings and also the circles that Lord Kettlewell (Brian Protheroe) moves in. The scene is so beautifully set from the beginning, that it is very easy to fall headlong into the story and lose yourself, in my opinion. This lays the pathway for caring about the characters and piques curiosity which created an extra element of fun for me, personally.

Bessie Carter as Pamela Kettlewell

It seems that Lord Kettlewell is to be joined by a whole host of visitors to his home, invited, uninvited, unexpected and intolerable! Among them is his estranged daughter, Pamela who is played inexplicably splendidly by Bessie Carter. What became clear as Carter helped us to explore Pamela’s journey, was that she was cleverly taking us on her own individual roundabout ride. Indeed, Carter has the knack of moving seamlessly from a carefree, smiley young woman, to a conniving estranged daughter, to an opinionated Communist. Facial expressions that she puts to excellent use in abundance speak volumes, but her comic timing would lead you to believe that she has a much longer list of credits to her name, when she is in fact, fresh out of Drama School. I found the playful and friendly relationship that Pamela formed with family friend Churton Saunders (Hugh Sachs) to be a welcome distraction, it was subtle but helped to move Pamela’s plotting and scheming along. Hugh Sachs was on top form as Saunders, his command of the witty dialogue was perfect and he brought unbridled joy to all of his scenes. Brian Protheroe was a fine choice for the role of Lord Kettlewell, he played the role with exasperation and a general ‘woe is me’ attitude and bantered well with Carter during his exchanges with Pamela. Kettlewell’s butler, Parsons (played by Derek Hutchinson) was a steady presence, but he came into his own during act two.

Steven Blakeley as Comrade Staggles

One of Lord Kettlewell’s expected guests is Lady Knightsbridge, she is played majestically by Richenda Carey. I enjoyed the fact that she was a ‘fixer’ for just about everybody in her acquaintance and it was a particular highlight when she talked Parsons around in the proverbial roundabout. Lord Kettlewell’s mistress, Hilda Lancicourt (Carol Starks) arrives with a flourish and she is at the heart of Pamela’s meddling, Starks shines in the role, steaming with anxiety, hugely suspicious of Pamela and has a marvellous scene with Pamela’s Communist friend, Comrade Staggles (Steven Blakeley). I feel it fair to say that Blakeley comes into his own as Staggles, the character’s boundless ability to persist following romantic rebuffs is one of the funniest recurring themes of the play. Blakeley also possesses a wonderfully expressive face which suits such a madcap character. There’s also a stunning performance from Lisa Bowerman, as Pamela’s mother, Lady Kettlewell. Lady Kettlewell, although estranged from her husband, has been plotting to a similar degree that her daughter has, although not quite so overtly. Her arrival is greeted with mixed feelings, although Pamela is gleeful at first, when her mother appears. I felt that excellent chemistry between Bowerman and Protheroe made them a formidable duo. I must add that I found it hard to believe that this was Charlie Field’s professional debut, he played Farrington Gurney with assured confidence and his timing was impeccable.

There’s a strong farcical element to the piece, it’s fast-paced and the dialogue is sharp, delivered by a cast who work as a well oiled machine. I can’t recommend this play highly enough, I too ask the question, why has this not been done before?

Photos courtesy of: Park Theatre



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