Review: The Circle, by Somerset Maugham, directed by Tom Littler. From 7-10 Feb at the Oxford Playhouse- book here.
[Disclosure: Our reviewer received free tickets, free drinks, and a free programme for the purposes of this review.]
Somerset Maugham is considered the literary link between Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward – his life overlapping both of these icons of British playwriting. Like these icons, Maugham’s plays centre on the British upper class, using wit and irony to delve into human nature, relationships, and the tension between societal expectations and freedom of expression. Regarded as one of Maugham's masterpieces, The Circle explores the intricate dynamics and pivotal choices made within a privileged group of family and friends.
Daniel Burke as Teddy and Olivia Vinall as Elizabeth.
This production, by Orange Tree Theatre, and directed by Tom Littler, is traditional British theatre, beautifully produced. Everything is executed to a high level of professionalism – the costumes, hair and make-up, sets, lighting and sound are all done well. As is also traditional in these types of productions, the lead characters are played by actors of extraordinary pedigree. This means that the production values are high and the performances are all good.
Jane Asher as Lady Catherine and Nicholas Le Prevost as Lord Hughie.
At the opening night, there were a few diction issues with some of the actors – at some points the dialogue sounded indistinct or slurred. I would also encourage wardrobe to make sure that the costumes are properly ironed – it does take a little away from the sense of elegant, aristocratic luxury if the women’s dresses are obviously creased. But this is just nit-picking – in truth, everything is well done.
Clive Francis as Clive.
I think this production of The Circle will be liked by most people and is unlikely to be hated by anyone – though I doubt it will be loved by anyone either. It’s a great production to go to if you’re exhausted or if you have to find an event for a group of friends with very disparate tastes. It has enough depth to keep you mildly entertained, but not so much depth as to draw on your inner resources. This is not avant-garde theatre – so if you love your theatre to wow or challenge you – then this is not the production for you.
Peter Ashmore as Arnold.
This production of The Circle is comfort zone theatre – classic, traditional and well done. Sometimes, that’s what you need.
If you enjoyed reading about The Circle, then you'll probably enjoy reading our reviews of Agatha Christie's The Cracked Mirror, Strindberg's The Dance of Death (a rare 2* review) and Noël Coward's Private Lives.
All images provided to me by the Oxford Playhouse.