The Roundabout by J. B. Priestley

Witty Words Make You Yearn for the Classes Again

By: - Apr 30, 2017

The Roundabout
by J. B. Priestley
Cahoots Theatre Company, The Other Cheek & Park Theatre
Directed by Hugh Ross
With Steven Blakeley, Lisa Bowerman, Richenda Carey, Charlie Field, Derek Hutchinson, Annie Jackson, Emily Laing, Ed Pinker, Brian Protheroe, Hugh Sachs and Carol Starks
Polly Sullivsn (set design) David Howe (lighting design), Matthew Strachan (music composer).
59E59 Theaters
New York, New York
thru May 28, 2017
Photos by Carol Rosegg

Playwright J.B. Priestley always wanted to be a writer and would go on to produce novels and over thirty plays. He was a natural. He was also avidly leftist.

Dramas like The Roundabout awaken us again to the joys of witty repartee in the service of class distinctions and a changing world. Written between the two Wars, the cast includes declining aristocrats, parasitic hangers on, servants and an aristocratic daughter, newly entranced by Communism, and just arrived from Russia with her Comrade friend.

In this early play, Priestley flirts with the overthrow of a rigidly classed society, but in the end pulls back. The servant who wins big at the race track looks forward to buying the mansion of his current boss. Lord Ketterwell is in need of the money. Good fortune is snatched from the servant at the last moment, by the government, of course.

No revelation of plot line could interfere with the pleasure of this piece. Words again become important. Flashing lights and blinking electronic devices dim amidst the brilliant wit of the dialogue.

The division between the top one percent and the bottom 99 percent in most of the world's developed countries, leaves most of us in a giant mish mosh with not much dividing our suffering. It is often argued that to start to move up the economic and social ladder, you have to have a middle class to which to aspire. 

Aspiring to be a ladies' man is a sounder goal now. The playwright always enjoyed ladies and the play is loaded with men who chase women. The pairs are often odd.  

Lord Kettlewell, played by Brian Protheroe, easily handles three difficult women at once. Although his financial fortunes are flagging, his pursuits are not. His estranged wife, a successful business woman, arrives after years away. His daughter, a Russian revolutionary now, comes home although her father does not know her. Lord Kettlewell has attempted to cut off the dalliance with his current mistress, but this also results in visit.

Communism does not seem to have dampened the lust of Comrade Staggles, fresh from the Soviet Union.  He is inspired by the presence of seduceable women. He considers the maid Alice his social equal but can’t understand why it doesn’t follow that she’ll succumb instantly to his awkward advances. Kettlewell's assistant, Farrington Gurney, flirts with his daughter Pamela and so on.

The play takes place in a drawing room, designed cleverly by Polly Sullivan. Yet this is not simply drawing room drama. Each character has a twist, delightfully delivered. Chuffy Saunders, the hanger on, gets many of the best lines. Accused of jumping to conclusions, he announces, “That’s all the exercise I get."  His aphorisms always hit characters spot on, like Oscar Wilde's.  

Director Hugh Sachs captures the wit and the high octane interactions which erupt moment to moment. 

Brits Off Broadway returns this spring bringing the best of English Theatre to 59E59 Theaters. The Roundabout is a delicious import.