|L-R: Hugh Sachs and Emily Laing in THE ROUNDABOUT. Photo by Carol Rosegg.|
It is the 1930s – a time of worldwide economic depression, political upheaval, and social unrest. In England, Lord Richard Kettlewell (Brian Protheroe) is lamenting the failure of his financial ventures. He has been separated from his wife, Lady Kettlewell (Lisa Bowerman), for years. His daughter, Pamela Kettlewell (Emily Laing), whom he has not seen since his separation, has become a communist and has traveled to Russia, in support of the new communist state. And he has just attempted to sever his relationship with his mistress, Hilda Lancicourt (Carol Starks).
And then all hell breaks loose. On a single day in late summer or early autumn, Pamela returns from Russia and arrives, unexpected, at Lord Kettlewell’s country house with her scruffy and oversexed Russian fellow traveler, Comrade Staggles (Steven Blakeley), in tow. In short order, Hilda shows up too, as do Lady Kettlewell; the local busybody, Lady Knightsbridge (Richenda Carey); and one of Richard’s young employees, Farrington Gurney (Charlie Field). Richard’s old friend, Churton Saunders (Hugh Sachs), is already a guest at the house when all the others arrive as is Alec Grenside (Ed Pinker), an artist whom Richard has tentatively commissioned to paint some panels in the house. And, of course, Richard’s butler, Parsons (Derek Hutchinson) and his housemaid, Alice (Annie Jackson) are around as well.
The Roundabout by J.B. Priestley, in which all these characters appear, is a slight drawing room comedy that was originally produced in 1932 at the Liverpool Repertory Theatre. Not too surprisingly, the play did not receive another major production again for the next 85 years; it is, after all, a rather trivial, stilted and dated play and its loss to posterity is far from devastating. But equally unsurprisingly, after all this time, this “lost” play is now enjoying its US premiere at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan as part of this year’s Brits Off Broadway program because, despite all of the play’s evident shortcomings, it is still quite entertaining and provides an amusing look into one sector of a long gone world.
Moreover, we can be especially glad that Cahoots Theatre Company, in association with The Other Cheek and Park Theatre, are staging this production because they have done a truly first rate job. Emily Laing comes close to stealing the show in her chameleon-like performance as Pamela – a passionate communist, an abandoned daughter, a broken-hearted lover, a manipulative schemer – but she is very ably abetted in her task by the rest of her company. Hugh Sachs, Steven Blakely and Derek Hutchison deserve special mention for the comic relief they provide.