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The Roundabout
Lord Kettlewell, "You are always jumping to conclusions."
Chuffy Saunders, "I know I am. It's the only exercise I get!"

The Roundabout
Bessie Carter as Pamela Kettlewell (Photo: Robert Workman)
Yorkshireman JB Priestley's best known plays like An Inspector Calls, Time and the Conways, When We are Married and Dangerous Corner, as well as less well-known ones have been produced and included in Priestley anthologies . But The Park Theatre is mounting the first serious production of The Roundabout in 85 years and Oberon have published the script which wasn't included in all the JB Priestley's anthologies.

The Roundabout was written in 1931 with the intention of Peggy Ashcroft later an acting dame, playing the role of Lord Kettlewell's unconventional daughter Pamela. There was a production in 1932 without Ashcroft, and an edition of the play published by Samuel French which has been long out of print.

It is a most refreshing experience to discover a lost play by Priestley and to thoroughly enjoy Cahoots Theatre Company, The Other Cheek and the Park Theatre's production at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park.

The year is 1930 and in the aftermath of the First World War, Europe is in a state of political flux. Young idealised people are visiting Soviet Russia to experience the results of the Russian Revolution and Marx's ideas being put into practice. But The Roundabout is set in the drawing room of Lord Kettlewell (Brian Protheroe's country house.

Lord Kettlewell is separated from his wife Rose (Lisa Bowerman) and hasn't seen his daughter in ten years. Kettlewell has a most amusing friend, Churton (or Chuffy) Saunders, (brilliantly played by Hugh Sachs) a natural wit and a wry social commentator with some of the play's many best lines. Chuffy sees it as his duty to protect his friend Lord Kettlewell from the predatory women chasing the aristocrat.

One of these women, Hilda Lancicourt (Carol Starks) has sent a telegram announcing her urgent visit in response to Lord Kettlewell's letter telling her their dalliance is over. Before Hilda Lancicourt arrives at the local railway station, Richard Kettlewell has another visitor. His butler Parsons tells him there is a person of a sex he has been unable to determine asking to see his lordship.

Enter the vivacious Pamela Kettlewell (Bessie Carter), her hair tucked into a black beret, unwieldly khaki shorts and a man's shirt announcing her allegiance to Communism and her recent visit to the USSR. With her is an Englishman, Comrade Staggles (Steven Blakeley) a fellow traveller in the flirtation of the intellectual classes with Stalinist Russia. They both come out with the hackneyed jargon of the soviets. Lord Kettlewell is dreading the visit of a dreadful society gossip Lady Knightsbridge (Richenda Carey) and would prefer his unconventional daughter to leave first. When Lady Knightsbridge isn't wheeler dealing, finding jobs for her connections and relatives, she is gathering juicy information for another relative's gossip column.

The first act closes with Lady Knightsbridge and Hilda Lancicourt expecting a member of the Soviet Communard but instead witnessing Pamela's entrance transformed into a society beauty complete with elegant evening dress. We slowly realise that Pamela's agenda in visiting her father is not to rub him up the wrong way with tales of Communist Russia but something else altogether closer to home. If you are wondering why Bessie Carter looks familiar, her father is Jim Carter of Downton Abbey butler role fame and her mother is Imelda Staunton and I'd say Bessie has a fine acting career ahead of her.

Much social comedy ensues with a charming feel as people come and go in the stately home. The cast of eleven is of course unusually large for an Off West End theatre. The Roundabout, beautifully cast and directed, fizzes like a glass of good champagne and will send theatre directors to the Priestley archive to see what other gems can be mined.

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The Roundabout by JB Priestley
Directed by Hugh Ross
Starring: Brian Protherioe, Richenda Carey, Steven Blakeley, Bessie Carter, Hugh Sachs, Lisa Bowerman
With: Charlie Field, Derek Hutchinson, Annie Jackson, Ed Pinker, Carol Starks
Designer: Polly Sullivan
Composer: Matthew Stratton
Lighting Design: David Howe
Running time: Two hours 20 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 7870 6876
Booking to 27th September 2016
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 27th August 2016 performance at The Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, London N4 3JP (Tube: Finsbury Park)
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