The Independent London Newspaper



THEATRE: A social whirl in JB Priestley’s The Roundabout


Bessie Carter in The Roundabout. Photo: Robert Workman

Published: 3 September, 2016


JB Priestley is perhaps best known for his 1945 play An Inspector Calls. Set in 1912, it’s a scathing attack on social inequality in Britain and the dubious morals of the capitalist ruling class. 

The Roundabout, a drawing room comedy first performed in 1932, is much slighter. As in An Inspector Calls, Priestley portrays a society on the brink of change.

Lord Kettlewell (Brian Protheroe) is down on his luck; the value of his shares has plummeted and he may have to sell his country mansion. Over the course of a weekend he is descended upon by his mistress (Carol Starks), ex-wife (Lisa Bowerman) and their communist daughter Pamela (Bessie Carter), whom he barely knows. 

Pamela has recently returned from the Soviet Union and is accompanied by the fervent Comrade Staggles (Steven Blakeley). 

Priestley’s comedy pivots on the interactions between the house guests. While there are many witty lines, most coming from Kettlewell’s corpulent friend Chuffy (Hugh Sachs), the play feels insubstantial. Priestley takes potshots at upper-class decadence and snobbery as well as the naiveté of his ardent young communists who, he suggests, are not above indulging in hedonistic behaviour themselves. It is never clear where Priestley’s sympathies lie, except perhaps with the butler Parsons (Derek Hutchinson), who narrowly misses a win on the races.

Nevertheless, there are flashes of his later brilliance and socialist political principles. 

It is refreshing to see a large cast performing outside the West End and a great pleasure to witness Carter (daughter of Imelda Staunton and Jim Carter) in her triumphant professional debut.

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