Prolific author/playwright/broadcaster J.B. Priestley is perhaps best known for the novel, The Good Companion, his play The Inspector Calls, and pro-Britain wartime propaganda broadcasts until socialist themes got him booted off by the government. This is the U.S. premiere of 1932’s The Roundabout which played on its native soil and was then retired. One can see why.
Ostensibly a lightweight drawing room satire about changing social order, the play evolves over a Saturday afternoon in the life of failing businessman, (Lord) Richard Kettlewell (Brian Protheroe). The reserved patrician has a single guest at his country manse, old friend, Churton Saunders, aka “Chuffy” (Hugh Sachs), a self avowed Edwardian who gets all the good lines. Expecting only his young associate Farrington Gurney (Charlie Field), the host is informed by butler Parsons (Derek Hutchinson) of imminent arrivals by Lady Knightsbridge (Richenda Carey), a mercenary, all purpose “fixer,” and territorial mistress Hilda Lancicourt (Carol Starks). Kettlewell is long separated, but still married.
Steven Blakeley, Emily Liang
Add to this curious mix the highly unexpected appearance of daughter Pamela (Emily Liang), whom he hasn’t seen in ten years, her companion, Comrade Staggles (Steven Blakeley), both avowed communists returned from Russia, and, lastly his wife, Lady Kettlewell (Lisa Bowman).
In the hands of George Bernard Shaw, we might’ve seen the classes spar with meaningful illumination. Were the piece by Noel Coward, then it might’ve been sharply witty. As it stands, we’re subjected to a tedious two hours in the hands of milquetoast Kettlewell, almost-ran Chuffy, bratty, tantrum-throwing, mischief-making Pamela, and boorish, cliché Comrade Staggles. (Other characters are frankly negligible.)
Hugh Sachs, Lisa Bowerman, Emily Liang, Charlie Field
Having not seen Roundabout before, I can’t conjecture whether it might improve with a different cast (or some cast members would appear more capable in a different play). Here, aside from flickers, those onstage range from poor to irritating to ho-hum.
Hugh Ross’s Direction is so heavy handed, movement has no motivation except audience view, irony goes by practically unnoticed. Pamela is so over the top she’s in another script, there’s not a flicker of character definition, actors often tune out when not speaking.
Polly Sullivan’s Set works fine but has no attractions. Holly Henshaw’s Costumes exhibit well tailored men but, except for Hilda, uniformly unflattering apparel for women.
What more can one say?
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Carol Starks, Derek Hutchinson, Anne Jackson, Brian Protheroe, Rachenda Carey
Also featuring Ed Pinker as artist Alec Grenside and Annie Jackson as Alice the maid.
The Roundabout by J.B. Priestley
Directed by Hugh Ross
59 East 59th Street
Through May 28, 2017