REVIEW - Malvern Theatres the perfect venue for this magnificent Maugham's 'The Circle' - The Malvern Observer

REVIEW - Malvern Theatres the perfect venue for this magnificent Maugham's 'The Circle'

Malvern Editorial 14th Feb, 2024   0

SOMERSET Maugham is not a writer I am particularly familiar with, so I was fascinated to see what relevance a 100-year plus play could possibly have today, other than as a period piece showcase.

Director Tom Littler obviously thought differently as he extracts every ounce of realism from Maugham’s clever text which is delivered by a stellar cast who work in harmony with Littler’s mission. He is true to the writer and to the period – all the better it is for it too.

In a world where four-letter worded scripts are the norm, it brought a smile when one of the players is taken to task in the first few lines for using the ‘damn’ word. ‘With ‘beastly’ ‘jolly’ and the like being the vernacular, it actually became instantly charming.

The comedic story deals with upper class MPs’ young wives leaving them for pastures new with the underlying message that according to society back then there were only scarlet women, never men. Not much has changed there then!

Designer Louie Whitemore gives us some stunning costumes and furniture, but the set seemed more functional than factual with freestanding flats stretching the imagination that this was some huge Dorset country mansion.

The play opens with Arnold Champion-Cheney, (perfectly played by Pete Ashmore), nervously awaiting meeting his mother for the first time in 30 years. That is along with the lover who took her away from his dad when he was just five. Little does he suspect this is the least of his worries – history is about to repeat itself as his not-long- married and very young bride is planning to do the same to him.




Picture by Ellie Kurttz

That in a nutshell is the plot which Littler allows to brew and bubble, letting us do the thinking – nothing explodes – just fizzes and froths – any prejudices we may start off with about colonialism and upstairs downstairs are knocked back down like pop-up moles at a sideshow and it is like eating a nice box of chocolates.

Olivia Vinall is as beautiful as she is believable as Arnold’s frustrated wife Elizabeth and you can well see why she has fallen for the seductive gait of house guest Teddie Luton (just the right amount of suavity here from Daniel Burke).


Jane Asher and Nicholas Le Prevost take us on a delicious journey as Lady Kitty and Lord Hughie. As history repeats itself with Elizabeth and Teddie, so the years seem to drain away and the spring is put back into their rule-breaking relationship.

Man of the match for me though, has to be Clive Francis who is a veritable tour-de-force as Clive Champion-Cheney, Arnold’s father. He peels back the layers of his character from the hard-done-to abandoned daddy, to revealing a roguish player who changes his women when they reach the ripe old age of 25. He pays them off with a diamond ring and lets them think it’s them that’s doing the leaving. Clive is Maugham’s ‘Alfie’ – and we see what he’s all about!

It has to be said that if ever there was theatre and audience that is right for Maugham’s ‘Circle’, it has to be Malvern.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

 

****

Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose Reviews

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