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REVIEW: The Circle by Somerset Maugham at Cambridge Arts Theatre

Somerset Maugham said he “pick-pocketed” his own life for his novels and plays

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Once we are married, should we be sensible and make the best of it, even if it has got a bit stale? Or if a dazzling, swirling love comes along should we follow our heart? This is the proposition set by Somerset Maugham’s 1921 play. Duty or joy?

At the opening of this drama, we hear how Lady Kitty broke her husband’s heart when she ran off leaving him and their five-year-old son, Arnold. The three have never met again.

Orange Tree Theatre Production of The Circle by Somerset Maugham Photographs by ©Nobby Clark
Until now. Here we are 30 years on and her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth has invited the errant couple to stay, at Kitty’s old country house, since inherited by her son Arnold with Kitty’s ex-husband Clive still living in a cottage on the estate. Clive, who in anguish destroyed every photograph of his wife after she left him.

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To complicate matters more, the “circle” has turned. Elizabeth herself has fallen in love with a summer guest and is seriously thinking of repeating history by eloping with him and leaving dull young fogie Arnold.

He is preoccupied with his career as an MP and after three years of marriage, his ardent passions are reserved for restoring antique furniture.

Somerset Maugham said he “pick-pocketed” his own life for his novels and plays. He lost both his parents. His mother when he was eight and his father two years later – but both to illnesses, no one left voluntarily.

Orange Tree Theatre Production of The Circle by Somerset Maugham Photographs by ©Nobby Clark

The one who ran off and left their spouse and child was the writer himself. He left his wife and daughter for the man who became his life-long lover.

Maugham was regarded as a theatrical link between Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward and there is a lot of comedy in this play and much wit. It is certainly done justice to here. They have got the most out of it. The performances are immaculate.

Robert Maskell as the butler shows that you don’t need many lines to almost steal the show. His demeanour speaks volumes.

Orange Tree Theatre Production of The Circle by Somerset Maugham Photographs by ©Nobby Clark

Orange Tree Theatre Production of The Circle by Somerset Maugham Photographs by ©Nobby Clark

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There are masterclass performances too from the rest of the cast.

Jane Asher as Kitty has a light comic touch and excellent timing The lover who once lured her away, Lord Hughie Porteous, now a charmless, bickering brute, is played masterfully by Nicholas Le Prevost.

Clive Francis is dapper and eloquent as her erstwhile husband, Clive who has some of the best lines – and appears – in the event – to have rather enjoyed being left to his own devices.

He has never remarried he says. “I am one of the few men who has learned by experience.” He points out the irony when speaking of the fate of his former wife that: “There is nothing so lamentable as a life lived for leisure”.

Kitty tries to warn her daughter-in-law Elizabeth that the gloss of her love affair will wear off: “Men do fall in love, she says: “But they are not in love all day long.”

Orange Tree Theatre Production of The Circle by Somerset Maugham Photographs by ©Nobby Clark

Orange Tree Theatre Production of The Circle by Somerset Maugham Photographs by ©Nobby Clark

Olivia Vinall as Elizabeth manages to give a strong character to a young woman who is almost a victim of circumstance. When life is comfortable but empty, sudden excitement can be intoxicating. Daniel Burke provides the romance as the dashing Teddy, her would be lover.

Pete Ashmore as her dull husband Arnold is a brilliant balance to this with some great comic moments.

Directed by Tom Littler, this is a fast-paced show, and a lively revival of a play first performed a hundred years ago which still has something to say about why we fall in love and how we stay there.

The Circle is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, January 27.

 

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