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The Roundabout review at Park Theatre, London – ‘worthwhile rediscovery’

Bessie Carter in The Roundabout at Park Theatre, London. Photo: Robert Workman Bessie Carter in The Roundabout at Park Theatre, London. Photo: Robert Workman
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Here’s a fringe rediscovery that’s a testament to good reading and about good breeding – a virtually unknown play by JB Priestley that actor-director Hugh Ross found in his own father’s vast theatrical library. It has previously had only one recorded production in 1932. While not exactly the unearthing of a dramatic masterpiece like Priestley’s An Inspector Calls or When We Are Married, The Roundabout is also more than a mere curiosity item.

Just as Chekhov portrayed a ruling class on the precipice of major social change, Lord Kettlewell is facing a financial crisis that may force him to sell off his stately home and bemoans the fact that “it’s just as hard work losing money as it is making it”. His estranged daughter, whom he has not seen for ten years, has returned from visiting Russia as a fully signed-up young Communist, with the womanising radical Comrade Staggles in tow. Thus the stage is set for a keen comedy about social class that dances with witty banter, Wildean aphorisms and Shavian ideas.

Hugh Ross’ elegant production has not come to the boil quite yet, with one or two actors still on the back foot in their timing and some of their lines; but there are at least two exemplary lead performances that get the pace, period and pitch just right. Hugh Sachs is a languid heap of playful mischief as long-time family friend Churn Saunders, observing the proceedings with a detached amusement; and Bessie Carter makes her professional stage debut straight out of Guildhall to play Kettlewell’s daughter with grace, elegance and wry intelligence.

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Worthwhile unearthing of a rare, rueful society comedy by JB Priestley