REVIEW: CIRCA (Old Red Lion Theatre) ★★

In 1897 Arthur Schnitzler wrote the controversial play La Ronde about the sexual morals of the different classes of society, in what must have been a provocative play for the time as it was not performed until 1920. The play’s structure is ten interlocking scenes, of two characters, and features ten characters in all. Over one hundred years later, Tom Ratcliffe in his debut play appears to have borrowed this structure with ten characters in episodic scenes exploring the modern day issues of the gay scene over an individuals life.

The cast of four men and a women become the mouthpieces for an exploration of familiar themes about gay sex and gay relationships. Casual sex versus long term relationships. Same sex parenting . Coming out to ones own parents . Protected and unprotected sex. Older men with pretty young boys . However unlike La Ronde where the linkages between successive scenes is a character from the last scene in a different social context , the linkages here are less clear.

Indeed as the actors double up in parts, their changed role could be better distinguished as when Joseph Rowe plays Ethan (the partner) and then Eric (the first love) to Daniel Abelson‘s Liam (The man).

There are some interesting scenes which provide insight into the gay lives like The Man discussing with the Partner whether after four and half years together they should start to plan for a family . Ethan argues that he is not meant to have kids , if he was he would have liked girls and is worried that Liam is trying to make him straight . It makes the argument but it hardly seems a convincing one in a world where there are now so many successful high profile same sex relationship role models with families.

The relationship of casual sex is explored between The older man (Antony Gabriel) who twice picks up The young man (Thomas Flynn) and takes him to his flat and to a five star hotel for physical and unemotional sex describing the young man as “a cock hungary little power bottom”. These encounters hint at the loneliness of gay men as they come out and form relationships .

The small intimate space above The Old Red Lion pub is dressed in grey panelled tile walls with relief that is accentuated by the lighting and strangely smoke hanging over the scenes. A raised area doubles as a bed with cast changing props between scenes in carefully directed moves and pauses but overall the pace felt too slow .

Just as La Ronde sought to shock its audience about the nature of casual sex, Circa seeks to engage its audiences with its portrayal of gay relationships. There is very little joy in the characters who are largely underdeveloped thinly sketched stereotypical caricatures and as a result it was hard to care how their life turned out.

Reviewed by Nick Wayne
Photo: Lidia Crisafull


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