REVIEW: THE ROUNDABOUT (PARK Theatre) ★★★★
J.B.Priestley plays are elegant, literate and funny, if a little dated. The Roundabout (never the most popular of his works) was written in the 1933 when the world was a different place.
The play explores the relationships between the varied characters over a single weekend. Priestley threw in a number of diverse characters and looked at them from the perspective of the father, who was a failing, upper class, old Etonian business man, Lord Kettlewell.
To call Lord Kettlewell’s family dysfunctional is a vast understatement. He and his wife are divorced, and he has just sent a letter to his girlfriend ending their relationship. He does not know anything about his daughter, having last met her when she was two years old.
Lord Kettwell’s business is losing money and he faces the prospect of having to sell his mansion if he can not borrow enough to keep going. Here the story begins.
Kettwell’s oldest and closest friend, Churton Saunders, has joined him for dinner. Churton is humorous and more than a little pleasantly cynical.
Then, unexpectedly, the butler Parsons announces that a visitor has arrived who turned out to be Kettwell’s long estranged daughter, Pamela. She arrives dressed like a nerd hitchhiker, accompanied by her male comrade Staggles. The two of them had spent some years in Russia and are hardened Commies. Lord Kettwell is not happy about the situation, and objects to his daughter being there and demands, in vain, that she leaves before his friends arrive and she shows him up. But things get worse when she announces that she has invited Lady Kettlewell, his ex wife who is her mother, along as well. Things improve however when Pamela changes into a beautiful dress and immaculate coiffure and becomes “more acceptable” as his daughter. Staggles however remains his tiresome self.
Then Kettwell’s young personal secretary, Alec Grenside, arrives late due to having been involved in a motoring accident. The accident, as it turns out, was caused by the two young communists although they dispute this.
The day is full of funny but irreconcilable discussions between left and right wing opinions.
The final scene with hardened communist Staggles and the cynical Churton sitting down together, drinking some fine brandy, while beautiful calm music plays in the background and Staggles comments “that’s what life should be like. Mozart.”
Without exception the acting is faultless, funny and interesting. Special mention to Brian Protheroe as Lord Kettlewell, Hugh Sachs as Churton Saunders, Lord Kettlewell’s oldest friend, and Bessie Carter as Pamela. The play was directed by Hugh Ross and continues in the Park Theatre until 24th September.
The play is a light comedy which takes on serious themes, although in 1933 opinions were different. Looking from a modern, eighty years on perspective this looks very old fashioned and a little condescending. Priestly in this play showed an anti-communist stance, with both Comrades finally watering down their left wing views (in Staggles case due to an excess of fine brandy). It is well worth catching as long as you don’t take the whole thing too seriously.
Reviewed by Graham Archer
Photos: Robert Workman
THE ROUNDABOUT plays at PARK Theatre until 24 September 2016