The Circle at Orange Tree Theatre review

Hovering somewhere between Noel Coward and Oscar Wilde, this comedy of bourgeois manners set in 1920 is rooted in real dilemmas faced by women on the verge of liberation.

Former society beauty Lady ‘Kitty’ Catherine (Jane Asher), the errant wife of Clive Champion-Cheney (Clive Francis), ran off with an impoverished Lord ‘Hughie’ Poretous (Nicolas Le Provost).

Many years later, she arrives at the family home to see the son she abandoned, Arnold (Pete Ashmore), an uptight MP with a keen interest in interior design whose marriage to Elizabeth (Olivia Vinall) is starting to unravel.

When Arnold’s best friend and houseguest Edward (Chirag Benedict Lobo), starts making romantic overtures to Elizabeth, history appears to be repeating itself.

Through dialogue that sparkles and stings, Maugham shows the improbability of perfection in romantic liaisons while at the same time granting license to those who pursue them.

READ MORE: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Bad Cinderella viciously snubbed from Tony Awards nominations

Channeling Raine Spencer en route to Lady Bracknell, Asher maintains an airy cynicism throughout.

As her ex-husband who has subsequently indulged himself with squadrons of young women, Francis is witty and roguish, goading his rival over being trapped in marriage to a woman whose “soul is as thickly rouged as her face.”

Performed in the round with minimal furnishings and maximum frockery, it is an impeccably poised production.

In his first production as incoming Artistic Director, Tom Littler conveys Maugham’s civilised subversiveness with confidence and style.

It promises well for the future.

Leave a Comment