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Jane Asher plays a self-obsessed ageing beauty in Somerset Maugham’s well-acted period piece The Circle





The Circle at the Oxford Playhouse from Tuesday, February 6, to Saturday, February 10

Review by JON LEWIS

Theatre Royal Bath Productions Jan 2024 Orange Tree Theatre Production of The Circle by Somerset Maugham Tom Littler/Director Louie Whitemore/Designer Chris McDonnell/Lighting Designer Jane Asher - Lady Catherine 'Kitty' Champion-Cheney Clive Francis - Clive Champion-Cheney Nicholas Le Prevost - Lord 'Hughie' Porteous Olivia Vinall - Elizabeth Champion-Cheney Pete Ashmore - Arnold Champion-Cheney Daniel Burke - Teddy Luton Robert Maskell - Murray & Understudy Clive Champion-Cheney / Lord 'Hughie' Porteous Photographs by ©Nobby Clark nobby@nobbyclark.co.uk
Theatre Royal Bath Productions Jan 2024 Orange Tree Theatre Production of The Circle by Somerset Maugham Tom Littler/Director Louie Whitemore/Designer Chris McDonnell/Lighting Designer Jane Asher - Lady Catherine 'Kitty' Champion-Cheney Clive Francis - Clive Champion-Cheney Nicholas Le Prevost - Lord 'Hughie' Porteous Olivia Vinall - Elizabeth Champion-Cheney Pete Ashmore - Arnold Champion-Cheney Daniel Burke - Teddy Luton Robert Maskell - Murray & Understudy Clive Champion-Cheney / Lord 'Hughie' Porteous Photographs by ©Nobby Clark nobby@nobbyclark.co.uk

SOMERSET Maugham’s 1921 drama of marital infidelity, The Circle, dramatises how some upper-class women trapped in loveless marriages bolt from their husbands to live with a more exciting man.

The play, revived by Tom Littler for the Orange Tree Theatre where he is the artistic director, in a co-production with Bath Theatre Royal productions, is set in the years after the First World War when class still determined behaviour.

Maugham focuses his lens on two women from different generations who left their husbands and the posh country house they roamed around in, bored and neglected when their spouses attended Parliament as MPs.

The first bolter, newly returned from Italy after 30 years away, Lady Catherine, known as Kitty (Jane Asher), with her foppish second husband Hughie (Nicholas Le Prevost) in tow, is a self-obsessed ageing beauty, never caught for words.

One sharply written scene demonstrates her quest for joi de vivre and her Teflon character traits.

Having not seen her son Arnold (Pete Ashmore) since he was aged five, 30 years ago, she rushes towards Arnold’s more dashing tennis-playing friend Teddie (Daniel Burke) embracing him gushingly, before more perfunctorily moving towards Arnold having been informed of her mistake.

Arnold shows more passion for period furniture than he does for his pretty wife Elizabeth (Olivia Vinall) who is a decade younger than him.

It’s easy to see how Elizabeth has fallen for Teddie even though they haven’t even shared a kiss. Her marriage is barren in more ways than her lack of children.

Kitty and Hughie immediately pick up on her ennui after Elizabeth is quizzed whether she is happy with Arnold due to ‘no babies’ after three years together.

Arnold’s neglectful treatment of his wife suggests the apple does not fall far from the tree. His facile father Clive (Clive Francis) has also returned home, from Paris.

Once Hughie’s best friend and colleague, he plays second fiddle to the man who, according to Kitty, could have been Prime Minister if he hadn’t run off with her.

Father and son are probably gay, as Maugham was, but cannot admit it as homosexuality was criminalised.

A well-acted period piece.



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