North London members Tim Dixon and Martha Constable enjoyed a Priestley evening with friends at this newish neighbourhood theatre – it opened in 2013, and has been backed by both the local community and leading actors like Ian McKellen and the late Alan Rickman. Admirably directed by Hugh Ross, this was the first performance of this early Priestley play in many years. Tim and Martha write that the theatre seats just 90, on three sides around the stage, which is sparsely set with touches of 1930s country house furnishings overlaid on to the theatre’s brickwork and steel girders. Here is their review.
The plot of The Roundabout re-unites a financially stricken Lord Kettlewell with his daughter Pamela, recently returned from Russia as a Communist – in a fine first professional appearance by Bessie Carter. The play pivots on the dialogue between Lord K and his estranged wife, his mistress Hilda, his close friend Chuffy and other characters. While being set against the backdrop of 1930s Europe, The Roundabout could equally well be grafted onto the present day. Rather than a faded aristocrat confronted by his daughter’s revolutionary ideas, the piece could easily portray a child of a later era resisting the conservatism of her parents. Whilst firmly rooted in events of its time, the power of The Roundabout, as with much of Priestley’s work, lies in its relevance to a modern audience – a universality of dialogue and a timeless commentary on relationships and social class. He succeeds in both being of his time and transcending it. The best lines are from Chuffy, fantastically well acted with delicious comic timing by Hugh Sachs. A self-proclaimed social parasite, Chuffy belongs to the Edwardian era in its last throes and no longer sees his place in the modern world. Hence he lends the play an outsider’s ear, teasing out each character’s true nature. But the play as a whole belongs to the daughter Pamela, played by an effervescent Bessie Carter, who captivates the audience from the start. In lesser hands the part might be merely precocious and irritating, but Carter sparkles as she carries off Pamela’s antics with mischievous charm. Carol Starks, as Lord Kettlewell’s mistress, draws the short straw: she must be bland enough to fall for Pamela’s Puckish scheming, and meek enough to buckle under her antics. Circularity is inherent in the title. A wonderful piece of dialogue in the final act mirrors one at the beginning, when lines spoken to Pamela by her father are spoken the second time in reverse – by daughter to father, thus overturning their power relation. One criticism of The Roundabout would be that Priestley indulges in more threads of circularity than necessary. After a cracking first two acts, the final act